I recently returned from Structural Specialist Training in California for the USACE and FEMA USAR system (there’s a lot of abbreviations for you!). I am on the VA Task Force 2, USAR team and we respond to large scale disasters. Having an engineer on the team keeps the Task Force members safe.
When responding, we often deal with structures that are in very unstable condition; this is a difficult mindset for engineers to operate in. We are trained to make sure that the structures we design are able to withstand the design loads set forth in code, but in situations like these structures have severe damage and could fall down at any second. The Task Force members do not need us to tell them that the building is unsafe, anyone could see that; they need us to explain to them the risks involved for potential further collapse and/or the safest way to enter and exit the building. Additionally, we might have to develop a shoring plan to access any people that may be trapped in the building.
It is a very challenging, but rewarding form of engineering and I am very proud to be able to call myself a member of a very select group of engineers in the FEMA USAR and USACE system.