If you are nervous about the storm, it might be a comfort that although we hope for the best, we are prepared for the worst on Aquidneck Island.
There is a special unit of eight - seven highly trained individuals and one search and rescue canine - that are here just to have our back during Hurricane Sandy.
Rhode Island Urban Search & Rescue Task Force (RIUSAR) is an urban search and rescue team that is capable of responding to major disasters, including situations outside the ability of our local emergency crews, such as structural collapses.
The task force is one of three teams that was assembled by the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency after the governor declared a state of emergency on Sunday. They are staying with the Middletown Fire Department and are available to any Newport County department while they are on the island. The two other teams are in Westerly and Narragansett.
Operations manager Donald Gunning said the decision to place a task force in an area is based on department size, population and proximity to water.
“It’s deeply based on need assessment,” said Gunning.
The current team is made up of volunteers from various professions from engineers to firefighters. Gunning is a lieutenant with the Newport Fire Department.
Gunning said what they do and how long they stay will depend on the storm; but their primary role is to assist in the case of a major disaster such as a structural collapse. He said the concern with incoming Hurricane Sandy would be a massive surge, which could potentially bring down a building.
Cameron, a border collie, is trained to work with teams during search and rescue efforts.
That is not to say the team will wait around and wait for a disaster. “We wear lots of hats,” said Gunning.
They might jump in to assist other departments that are short-staffed, help clear trees or conduct their own needs assessment. Gunning said they do whatever it takes.
“We will go over bridges if need be,” he said.