Rescue team joins elite disaster body

A UAE search and rescue team has become the first from a Middle East country to join a top UN group.

ABU DHABI // A search-and-rescue team from the UAE is the first in the Middle East to join an elite group accredited by the United Nations. The UAE Urban Search and Rescue Team (UAE USAR) is part of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, made up of more than 80 countries and organisations.

Only 16 countries have received classification from the group, and the UAE joined elite corps on December 18. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said: "The UAE attaches great importance to the principles of voluntary work in the field of search and rescue in a way that allows us to meet all international humanitarian standards."

The team also won this year's Sharjah Voluntary Work Awards for institutional voluntary work. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, said: "I wish to make our team among the leading group in the whole world in search-and-rescue operations. We will keep working towards this goal." Lt Col Mohammed al Nuaimi, the head of UAE USAR, said the team was launched when emergency and public safety department workers were deployed after Pakistan's 2005 earthquake.

"The co-ordination was between the UAE Government and that of Pakistan," he said. "In 2006 and 2007, we operated in Indonesia. In 2008, we operated in Afghanistan, and in 2009 we worked in Indonesia again. These international operations served as accumulated experiences for us to pass the UN tests." During these operations, he said, the team got to know about the international advisory group. "To get into this group, one needs to abide by certain guidelines and comply with international standards to ensure that rescue services were delivered efficiently and correctly," he said.

The advisory group was established in 1991 by teams responding to the 1988 Armenian earthquake. Given the high cost of search-and-rescue missions and the need to dispatch quickly, it was decided to build a group of teams that could be called on around the world to be deployed in an emergency. "What we do is very efficient and fast," said Jesper Lund, a humanitarian affairs officer with the group's secretariat, which falls under the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva.

Five years ago, the group decided to certify teams to ensure that they were all up to the challenging task of rescuing people from collapsed structures. It was determined that a more co-ordinated system was needed, which led to the decision to develop the classification system. "There was a need to classify international USAR teams according to their operational capabilities in order to ensure that only qualified and appropriate USAR resources are deployed to an emergency," said Nihan Erdogan of the advisory group's secretariat.

The classification is based on the globally accepted standard for international search and rescue operations, she added. Classified members of the advisory group have to be willing to deploy their teams free of charge when they are able. The government of the country receiving the team must facilitate their entry and co-ordinate their efforts along with the relevant UN authorities. Major Mohammed al Ansari, a member of the UN Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination team, described the development as a "great achievement" that meant the UAE search and rescue team had become a leader in the region.

A number of Arab countries, he said, are now planning to follow suit. Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan are co-ordinating with the UAE team. "We are at the stage of setting plans with these countries on how to develop their teams and facilities," he said.