In the town of College Station, Texas lays a dormant and remote neighborhood, entirely destroyed. Fifty-two acres of buildings and concrete crumbling in a dusted ruin, rusted vehicles flipped and crushed, and piles of rubble stacked stories high characterize this site: an area known to many as the ‘Disaster City’. Imagine College Station real estate destroyed!
While it might look as though merciless calamity has struck this region of the otherwise developed Aggieland, Disaster City is nothing more than a façade: a set no more harmful than scenes designed for Hollywood. And in many ways, that is exactly what this set up is. There are actors, makeup artists, fake blood and explosions. The difference is that for the men & women who arrive at the scene, disaster city is very, very real.
Disaster City is a training setting for Firefighters, law enforcement and various other types of emergency personnel. Opened in 1997, Disaster City was a brain-baby of Texas A&M Professor G. Kemble Bennett. After the terrorist attacks in Oklahoma in 1993 and the bombing in the garage of the World Trade Centers in 1995, Bennett realized professional rescue personnel needed an appropriate setting to develop their skills and enhance their training.
“Emergency responders learn by doing,” Bennett said in an Interview with CNN. “We wanted a training facility to train responders in search-and-rescue from around the state.”
When Disaster City opened in 1997 Bennett was the director. Many of the structures of the City have been inspired by real life events, down to the very detail. This makes for an incredibly convincing environment. Not to mention the Texas Engineering Extension Service at Texas A&M, already in charge of training emergency search and rescue personnel, are responsible for the city’s design.
Since Disaster City’s premiere, the number of respondents who train at the site has grown rapidly. Today it is used to train hundreds of personnel from across the state. They come from all over East Texas, representing Houston, Dallas, Galveston, and even Pilot Point. They arrive at Disaster City for one reason: a weekend of intensive simulation to put their search and rescue skills to the ultimate test. And there couldn’t be a better locations to stage the training. With the numerous, various, and elaborate disasters set up around the city, “responders” (the term for the training rescue personnel) have the opportunity to thoroughly prepare for anything they might encounter again in the real world.
Responders will be tested for over any number of various devastations. This year, for this group, it’s a bombing. Rescue personnel drive out to the scene on Saturday, June 22nd and arrive at a scene that looks, impressively, as though a bomb has exploded in the center of town. The streets are deserted and scattered with overturned vehicles. A train lies jagged and derailed on the edge of town. A bus is crushed against a telephone pole. Piles of rubble and broken concrete, scrap material that is supposed to have once been a multistoried building, reduced to nothing. And then they go to work for 36 hours straight.
Volunteers act to bring a measure of realism to the scene (although this is hardly necessary). Men and women, convincingly cut, bruised, and incapacitated, run around, screaming and crying, trapped or insisting for help. Responders are responsible for rescuing these victims from under rubble and in decimated environments, while dealing appropriately with the wounded and debilitated that interfere or roam the streets. The acting is convincing, and the make-up couldn’t be more real. One wound, a cut on the arm, is so artistically designed there’s almost a measure of aestheticism to the gaping lesion.
Respondents arrive on the scene and begin to split off into groups of two or three. They have been trained to be methodical, practical. When a woman runs up yelling for help, for assistance, pleading with the sincerity of a volunteer actress, the respondents keep walking. “Do the most good for the most people as fast and as safely as possible,” says Mike McKenna, a weekend Disaster City Manager. According to McKenna, “getting too emotionally attached actually makes us a less effective responder.” This theory, as harsh and cold as it seems, works. Pragmatism saves lives.
All trainees who have graduated from Disaster City can attest to this fact. Brian Freeman, the current owner of the training site, visited the sites during 2003 and 2004. Then in 2005, terrorists set off bombs in central London. Freeman’s crew was on the site to assist and rescue following the attacks. “We would not have had the expertise if not for Disaster City,” he reported to CNN news.
Similar evidence suggests the same. In fact, a crew of Texas search and rescue personnel responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center following September 11, 2001. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina provided a different kind of disaster. But for both calamities, the Texas personnel trained at Disaster City proved well prepared. Their realistic training gave them a conditioning they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Training at Disaster City inadvertently saved the lives of American citizens. As long as the cost of rubble and the participation of enthusiastic volunteers results in saved lives and efficient response to calamities, Disaster City will remain wrecked, debased, and broken. And, while Disaster City is wrecked and broken the citizens of Bryan and College Station have the best team available right here at home!
PS – Susan Hilton is Bryan College Station, Texas’ real estate specialist in foreclosure sales and real estate agent career building so if you need help – CALL! 979-219-3970