Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, (WTC), in New York on 11 September 2001, the Minister with responsibility for fire requested HM Chief Inspector of Fire Services to examine as a matter of urgency the fire service’s ability to respond to major incidents.
National Resilience (formerly known as New Dimensions) was subsequently established to evaluate Fire Service capabilities and to make recommendations to ensure that the fire service is sufficiently trained and equipped to deal with major chemical, nuclear, biological and conventional terrorist incidents. USAR is one of the projects that was born from this review and has resulted in the formation of 19 units across England, Wales and Northern Ireland; the USAR project is funded directly from central government.
The USAR units are distributed so that there are 2 per region with Norfolk and Essex being chosen for the Eastern region. The 19 units have the capacity to deal with three simultaneous incidents across the UK whether these are terrorist, natural or man-made disasters.
The primary functions of Norfolk USAR are
- Collapsed structures
- Heavy transport incidents
- Confined space rescues
- Wide area searches
- Rescues from height
- Flood response and water rescues
The unit in Norfolk is comprised of 14 fulltime technicians split into two watches providing cover 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The fulltime technicians are supported by 16 retained USAR personnel who provide cover on a part-time basis. The unit also has a fully trained search dog. The unit are on the national flood deployment register and are working towards their accreditation as an international search and rescue team within the United Nations.