ORISKANY, N.Y. – Fifteen New York Army National Guard engineers got hands-on training from four members of Israel’s Home Front Command on Israeli techniques for locating and rescuing people from destroyed buildings, during three days of training from July 17 to 19 at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany.
The Soldiers are members of the 827th Engineer Company, based in Horseheads, which has been assigned to serve as the search and extraction element for the FEMA Region II Homeland Response Force. That force, which is designed to respond to natural disasters, or terrorist attacks, is staffed by the New York and New Jersey National Guards.
Their mission is to go into destroyed buildings to locate survivors and pull them out, according to Maj. Kevin O’Reilly Jr., the executive officer of the 204th Engineer Battalion, the 827th’s higher headquarters.
Israel’s Home Front Command, created in 1992, conducts many of the missions the National Guard does in the United States, and are the acknowledged experts in the art and science of saving people from destroyed buildings, O’Reilly said.
“The Israelis’ success in search and rescue boils down to the analytical, engineering-based approach which they apply to a collapsed structure,” O’Reilly said.
“They are able to understand, and map collapsed structures, accurately predicting where to find victims trapped in chaotic rubble,” he said.
The Israeli techniques were eye-opening, said Spc. Jerome Griffin.
“I think from a Soldier’s perspective we have a tendency to want to jump in and just start saving people as fast as we can, but the engineers from Israel really stressed patience,” Griffin said. “They said to take a step back and really calculate how to operate safely and smoothly without causing more damage, and that really resonated with me,” he added.
New York is one of four states, along with Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, which have cultivated training and information exchange relationships with Israel’s Home Front Command, according to Maj. Davie Myones, the New York National Guard State Partnership Program officer.
The New York National Guard and Israeli Home Front Command initiated a partnership in 2006, which was formalized in 2019 with a bilateral security cooperation agreement.
“What my Israeli counterpart and I really wanted to do was create a venue for the exchange of ideas and to build relationships,” Myones explained.
“All of these personnel have so much experience and knowledge, we wanted to get them together and share these things with the intent of making all of their organizations better,” he added.
A major part of the Home Front Command mission is conducting search and rescue during disasters, said Israeli Lt. Col. Inbar Solomon.
When other countries need help conducting those types of missions, Israel responds to both assist and learn from those disasters, she explained.
“Whenever there is a large-scale disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti, the one in Turkey recently, or even the building collapse in Miami, we try to send a team to help with search and rescue efforts,” Solomon said.
“This typically forms a bond between Israel and these countries, and we also learn a lot from the collaboration,” she added.
The Israelis have been called to assist in building collapse rescue and recovery missions around the world, ranging from the Turkish earthquake in February of this year, to the Champlain Towers collapse in Miami Beach, Florida in 2021 because of their expertise, O’Reilly said.
Five members of the New York City fire department, five members of the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and two Soldiers from the Missouri National Guard, also took part in the training.
Illinois, and Indiana were also invited to send Soldiers to participate, but they were not able to make it, Myones explained.
New York’s Preparedness Training Center is an 1,100-acre training facility run by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. The facility includes a rubble pile urban search and rescue simulator, a 45,000 square-foot “Cityscape” and a swift water and flood rescue training simulator.
On day one the course focused on classroom presentations. The Israeli’s discussed the types of events that lead to search and rescue operations such as earthquakes or building collapses, and the role of engineers in search and rescue. This also include an equipment overview.
On day two the teams utilized various types of equipment at the search and rescue simulator. This included an excavator and crane truck for moving heavy debris and rubble, as well as jacks and lumber for lifting and bracing.
The four Israeli’s offered their insights on how to retrieve the casualties - simulated by dummies - safely and efficiently at the simulator as well as in the classroom setting.
"Never count on friction to keep an element in place,” Major Matti Adan told the National Guard Soldiers and civilian firefighters, when discussing methods for extracting victims trapped by chunks of destroyed concrete.
On day three the focus was on advanced shoring techniques. The Soldiers and fire fighters learned the methods for bracing and propping up weak or compromised structures.
This also included a case study on lessons learned during the building collapse in Miami in 2021 and a lecture on choosing the right tools and equipment for the job.
“All of these personnel have so much experience and knowledge,” Myones said. “We wanted to get them together and share these things with the intent of making all of their organizations better.”
While Home Front Command soldiers and officers have lots of experience executing missions overseas, this was the first time they have traveled to take part in a course like the one taught in Oriskany, Solomon said.
“It is a good way for us to share what we have learned and also to gain more knowledge ourselves, and we intend to do it again in the future,” Solomon added.
The lessons learned from this training, along with the U.S. Army search and extraction course, will go a long way in preparing the Soldiers of the 827th to take over the important building search and rescue mission from a company of the 152nd Brigade Engineer Battalion in October O’Reilly said.