Every dog has its day

Author: Grace Goss-Durant

AIUS is supporting rescue dogs in their vital urban search and rescue work by hosting FEMA Canine Certification at their Littleton site. 

Take a trip to the Aggregate Industries US (AIUS) Littleton quarry facilities in Massachusetts and you may see dogs instead of diggers picking their way across the stones. It is not aggregates which they are looking for, however, but people, as the dogs test their ability to search for human ‘survivors’ buried under specially designed piles of rubble.

Built over five acres of the site by AIUS in 2010 to support the vital work of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Littleton K-9 Testing Facility replicates real-life emergency scenarios in which victims are trapped under debris. As one of a small number of such certification trials offered in the United States, each year it attracts dogs and their handlers from all over the country.

"All of us at the plant are proud that the Massachusetts Task Force 1 together with FEMA, selected our site to host their certification, not once but twice," said Steve Landry, Littleton quarry manager. "FEMA, the Massachusetts Task Force 1, and the rescue dogs perform a tremendous service. We are happy to offer them this training opportunity.”

Canine urban search and rescue can be necessary in the aftermath of a variety of extreme events, from emergencies such as terrorist attacks or technological breakdown to natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes. Often, the cause of victims being trapped stems from structural collapse, but transportation or mining accidents may also require assistance from these intrepid animals.

Rigorous training for difficult conditions

Given the gravity of the role they play in such circumstances, training and testing for FEMA Canine Certification is rigorous and rescue dogs and their handler teams must be recertified every three years. The process includes tests of agility, command control, barking alert skills, and the ability to focus in chaotic and stressful situations. The dogs also need to be able to operate in unfamiliar and hazardous territory, finding their way through dust and debris, smoke, chemical spills, barbed metal, and broken glass. Naturally, this also means that the dogs should be a little adventurous. Once certified, rescue dogs and their handlers can join FEMA rescue teams to help disaster victims worldwide.

The FEMA test at the Littleton quarry requires the dogs to find their way across piles of rubble - avoiding crates, side-stepping slabs, and navigating concrete tubing - while remaining constantly alert for the presence of a person buried underneath. When a victim is identified, the dog must bark for 45 seconds to indicate their location. Two different courses which must each be completed within 20 minutes test the dog’s abilities, and the candidates are immediately disqualified if they bark at an empty spot or if they miss more than one victim. This realistic course is important preparation for situations in which swift victim recovery is often a matter of life and death.

“As part of our wider efforts to serve the communities in which we operate, we’re very pleased to be able to host canine training and certification courses at our Littleton site,” said Guy Edwards, chief operating officer, Aggregate Industries US. “The rescue teams do an incredible job in what are often extremely difficult conditions, and we are proud to support them in their crucial work.”


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