Disaster City at Texas A&M gives first responders realistic training

Structural collapses among scenarios spread over 300 acres

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – A huge debris pile of crushed vehicles amid a jumble of steel and concrete is sadly reminiscent of last month’s condo collapse in Florida.

What looks very much like a multi-story office building and adjacent parking garage that collapsed are examples of the realistic scenarios spread over 300 acres at Disaster City, built by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, also known as TEEX.

First responders from all 50 states and around the world have come to Disaster City to train and hone their skills since it was completed in 1997, two years after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

“Officials here in Texas realized that if that happened here in Texas, we didn’t really have the capability to respond effectively to that sort of thing,” said Clint Arnett, training manager at the TEEX Emergency Services Training Institute.

Born out of one disaster, Arnett said Disaster City continues to adapt.

“We’ve added props and facilities as needed to try to keep up with what happens in real-world events,” Arnett said.

Disaster City is a 300 acre facility built by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, also known as TEEX.

He said the collapsed parking garage was modeled after a major California freeway that pancaked during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Hanging debris that must be restrained and later removed for first responders to safely work underneath, also serves as a stark reminder.

“At the Oklahoma City Murrah Building collapse, there was a responder that was killed by falling debris,” Arnett said.

Realism is the key, he said.

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.