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Chinese International Search and Rescue Team 10 Years On
Cover Stories Series 2011> Chinese International Search and Rescue Team 10 Years On
UPDATED: August 15, 2011 NO. 33 AUGUST 18, 2011
Rescue Rangers
Chinese rescuers rush to assist disaster-stricken countries

INSTANT HELP: Huang Jianfa (left), the CISAR's former head and current Executive Vice Mayor of Chengdu, explains the rescue mission to Admiral Noman Bashir (right), chief of Pakistan's Navy on September 2, 2010 (YUAN MAN)

Relief and rescue operations involve extreme stress, excitement and fatigue. "Team members should not only be fearless, but also be cool-headed," said Huang Jianfa, the CISAR's former head and the current Executive Vice Mayor of Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

To deal with the tragic and emotionally charged situations, the CISAR members have learnt to be calm and strong-minded.

"Saving lives is the top priority. There is no time to be sentimental," said Bu Bing, another team member.

Bu, who holds a doctorate in geosciences, made his first overseas rescue mission to New Zealand this February.

"The rescue work is very demanding. It requires a person to be brave, strong and skillful. One should also be good at communicating in English and non-verbally," Bu said.

Medical services

Wherever the CISAR goes, its medical personnel set up a mobile hospital. Often the team uses material salvaged from the debris to construct necessities such as medical tables.

Unlike many other international rescue teams, the CISAR usually includes a large medical squad, which serves team members as well as disaster victims. The work of the medical personnel has been highly praised.

"In the past 10 years, the CISAR has treated more than 46,000 injured persons and performed more than 1,000 operations," said Yin Guanghui, an official with the China Earthquake Administration.

"The CISAR's medical squad began operating in 2003 after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China," said Zheng Jingchen, the CISAR's chief medical officer and President of the General Hospital of Armed Police Force in Beijing. Zheng and other medical workers treated more than 2,000 wounded people in Xinjiang.

Zheng has also participated in the CISAR's overseas operations. After a catastrophic tsunami battered Indonesia in December 2004, Zheng and other team members arrived at an airport in Indonesia just days after the disaster.

"Just outside the airport were crowds of victims, some with festering wounds," Zheng said. Medical workers started treating patients immediately. In Indonesia, they worked about 15-16 hours a day.

"A rescue team's work requires more than simply courage and good intentions, proper skills are a must," Zheng said. He gave the example of survivors who managed to live for days trapped under debris but died shortly after being dug out due to "crush syndrome."

"Some rescuers do not understand crush syndrome—the release of a crushing weight can actually cause renal failure and threaten a victim's life," he said.

According to Zheng, emergency rescue work in a disaster region differs enormously from work at a hospital. "Medical workers treating disaster victims need to be generalists. In addition to first-aid techniques, they should be able to diagnose and treat other diseases such as respiratory problems and psychological disorders. They also need to be able to operate rescue equipment such as electric saws and drills," he said.

Drawing on his experience, Zheng has compiled two manuals with a total of 1,000 pages on emergency rescue. These books are handed out to every CISAR member.

Zheng believes "disaster relief medical science" should be a separate discipline, one that combines search, rescue and medical treatment into one field of learning. He has summarized his finding into China's first book on comprehensive disaster relief medicine.

Special members

Apart from its cohort of well-trained and highly experienced experts, the CISAR also employs another rather different category of specialists: sniffer dogs.

Super is the CISAR's veteran four-legged expert. His first mission was to find a missing boy in Algeria in 2003. Eight team members and two sniffer dogs including Super were assigned to the task. After some time, Super suddenly barked toward a crevice between cement slabs. The 12-year-old boy was dug out after being trapped under the slabs for three days.

In 2003, Super went on two overseas rescue missions. In Iran, his sensitive nose was able to uncover as many as five bodies a day.

On disaster sites, trained dogs usually do the initial reconnaissance work. After they locate targets, team members use life detector and other equipment to spot survivors. "Dogs respond differently to survivors and bodies. For example, if Super smells a survivor, it will bark loudly and get more and more excited; whereas if it smells a body, it will look sad and paw the ground," said Wu Suwu, the dog's trainer.

CISAR members have put a lot of efforts into training these dogs. The dogs are first trained to run and jump, then to communicate by barking, and eventually to locate objects and people. All the CISAR's 12 dogs have gained international accreditation. Like the team's human members, they always stand ready to provide emergency relief, anywhere a disaster might strike.

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