First responders training at Disaster City for real-world tragedies

Disaster City is run by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.

This weekend, first responders are training with the Texas A&M Task Force at Disaster City in College Station.

COLLEGE STATION – This weekend, first responders are training with the Texas A&M Task Force at Disaster City in College Station.

”Pipeline explosion that happened in a small town, which as we’ve seen on current events, that it can happen pretty much anywhere in the United States,” Jeff Saunders, director of the Texas A&M Task Force said, describing the training scenario.

Local and federal responders search and perform rescues in a makeshift town amid collapsed builds with contaminated material. That’s the scenario unfolding in Disaster City.

“We practice exactly the way that we are going to respond and this task force has probably responded more than any other team in the country,” Saunders said.

What you’re seeing has been in the works for months, long before the deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the train derailment in Ohio. But, the skills being practiced here mirror what’s unfolding in real life.

“All of the coordination that happens for a big disaster is going on all around us and what you’re looking at is the boots on the ground,” Saunders said.

The team in hazmat gear is actively searching for victims. Between the three rubble piles, there are 10 volunteer victims at a time.

Crews are using cameras, concrete breakers, and other tools to find them.

The team in vests is overseeing the whole process.

Volunteer victims are waiting beneath the rubble for first responders to get to them. In this scenario, they’re not using any dogs because there’s potentially hazardous material. It’s all manpower getting to each one of those victims.

“They’ll breach through there, get in, they have some patient packaging assessment stuff they have to do, hazmat has to do some air monitoring and then they can get them out of the hole and get ‘em back out,” Kevin Price, agency instructor one for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, or TEEX, said.

In this scenario, Price was acting as the victim wrangler. They like to have between 30 - 50 volunteer victims at a time.

KSAT 12′s cameras were rolling as volunteer victim Ashleigh O’Connell was rescued.

“Stuff like this actually happens and people sit there not just for two hours like I was but for more...days sometimes. So I mean, that was kind of like an eye opener to kind of think about,” O’Connell said.

The training continues into Sunday -- it’s treated as realistically as possible so each person is ready when disaster strikes.

“We are always ready to answer the call, so we say we are ready in a moment’s notice and we really are,” Saunders said.

You can sign up to be a volunteer victim here.

About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.