Haiti earthquake

Search Dog Foundation Teams in Haiti: Deployment Report

January 12, 2010:

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti, destroying most of Port-au-Prince and many surrounding communities. The Haitian government reaches out to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance which is charged with deploying FEMA Task Forces to overseas disasters.

Canine Disaster Search Teams trained by the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) are called into action. Our Los Angeles County teams assemble in Pacoima, then travel to nearby March Air Force Base to begin loading equipment, personnel, and canines. They will be airlifted into the disaster zone on a C-17 military cargo plane as part of the 72-member California Task Force 2 (CA-TF2).

One of SDF’s Florida teams, Julie Padelford-Jansen & Dakota, departs for Haiti as part of Florida Task Force 2 (FL-TF2).

January 14: Seven SDF Teams arrive in Haiti

Soon after landing, the CA-TF2 teams begin identifying buildings with a high probability of survivors, and the dogs start combing the wreckage. The highly-specialized, advanced search skills of every dog and handler are put to the ultimate test, and every minute counts. Several aftershocks make search and rescue operations even more precarious and urgent.

Back home, 21 additional SDF teams are put on standby to deploy with Baja California Task Force 3, Orange County Task Force 5, Oakland Task Force 4, Sacramento Task Force 7, New York Task Force 2, and Utah Task Force 1.

January 15: Hunter & Dakota find survivors!

At 1:15 p.m. local time an SDF team locates three girls, trapped alive for three days. Bill Monahan & Hunter are searching a neighborhood near the Presidential Palace, concentrating on a large bowl-shaped area of rubble which was all that remained of a four-story building. After criss-crossing the area, Hunter pin-points the survivors’ scent under several feet of broken concrete and gives a “bark alert” to let Bill know where the victims are. Bill speaks with the survivors, then passes them bottles of water. Los Angeles County Task Force rescue workers extricate the girls from the wreckage and provide first aid.

Julie Padelford-Jansen & Dakota help confirm the location of two more victims–both are pulled out alive.

SDF Founder Wilma Melville receives the news with quiet gratitude.

“This is the moment that SDF Search Teams train for–week in and week out. When one SDF team succeeds, ALL of our teams succeed. Our thoughts are with our teams in Haiti, who continue to comb the rubble into the night. Their perseverance, skill, and strength in the face of extreme challenges make us all proud, and give us hope.”

Jasmine & Cadillac, Jason & Maverick and Bill Monahan (working as Search Team Manager) are brought in to verify the presence of a survivor when tapping is detected under the rubble of a daycare center. CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his camera crew are at the scene and report live as the Search Dogs show interest in the area. After searching for almost eight hours, L.A. County Task Force determines that no one is alive under the shattered concrete.

Ron & Pearl, Gary & Baxter, and Ron & Dawson search through the night for survivors buried beneath the rubble of a bank. They return to the Base of Operations at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. Jasmine, Jason and Bill set out again at 5 a.m. The teams work long hours, stopping only long enough to let the dogs rest before starting to search again. Once they begin a search operation they work until the effort is complete–no matter how long it takes. The handlers are sustaining themselves on military rations and hot water; the dogs have food brought for them by their handlers.

 January 17, 2010 2:00 P.M. PST: Haiti update

L.A. County Search Teams staged for deployment to Haiti at March Airforce Base, January 14, 2010 Front row (L to R): Bill Monahan & Hunter, Jason Vasquez & Maverick, Jasmine Segura & Cadillac; Back row (L to R): Ron Weckbacher & Dawson, Gary Durian & Baxter, Ron Horetski & Pearl
L.A. County Search Teams staged for deployment to Haiti at March Airforce Base, January 14, 2010
Front row (L to R): Bill Monahan & Hunter, Jason Vasquez & Maverick, Jasmine Segura & Cadillac;
Back row (L to R): Ron Weckbacher & Dawson, Gary Durian & Baxter, Ron Horetski & Pearl

The Search Dog Foundation is receiving ongoing updates from our teams on the ground in Haiti. The handlers call or text-message when they have a chance, telling of the desperate situation they face, and the awesome work of their canine partners.

Saturday afternoon, SDF Search Teams Jasmine & Cadillac, Jason & Maverick and Bill Monahan (working as Search Team Manager) were brought in to verify the presence of a survivor when tapping was detected under the rubble of a daycare center. CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his camera crew were at the scene and reported live as the Search Dogs showed interest in the area. Sadly, after searching for almost eight hours, L.A. County Task Force determined that no one was alive under the concrete.

Ron Horetski & Pearl, Gary Durian & Baxter and Ron Weckbacher & Dawson searched throughout the night for survivors buried beneath the rubble of a bank. They returned to the Task Force Base of Operations at 4:30am on Sunday. Jasmine, Jason and Bill set out again at 5am to continue searching in their assigned area.

The teams are working long hours, stopping only long enough to let the dogs rest before starting to search again. Once they begin a search operation, they work until the effort is complete – no matter how long it takes. The handlers are sustaining themselves on military rations (MREs) and hot water; the dogs have food brought for them by their handlers.

Bill Monahan reports in via text message:

“Dogs are searching great. All eating and drinking. We’re working to make it ‘fun’ for them so they’ll stay motivated.” He shared by phone: “It’s a giant team effort. From the canines, to the logistics team, to communications, everyone is working at full capacity, using everything we’ve been trained to do to find survivors. It’s an honor to be here.”

January 18: Five more rescued!

Building in Haiti where three girls were rescued by SDF Search Teams.

We received this update today from our Search Teams in Haiti via cell phone:

Sunday was a very successful search day for Los Angeles County Task Force (CA-TF2), with a total of five rescues.

On Sunday the BLUE TEAM (Bill Monahan & Hunter, Jasmine Segura & Cadillac and Jason Vasquez & Maverick) rescued a woman from the rubble of her hotel. The appreciation shown by locals for the Search Teams and their Task Force was overwhelming. As soon as the woman was pulled from the wreckage, Haitians gathered in the street and began chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A...”

After this the teams helped dig out three more women from under three stories of another collapsed building. Two of the women, 19 and 20-year old sisters, were located when they called out to rescuers, but the third woman, a 31-year old, was deeper in the rubble. With the electronic listening devices signaling that there may be someone below, Search Dogs Cadillac, Maverick and Hunter were sent in and all showed interest in the same area, confirming the findings of the listening devices.

During the rescue, Task Force members crawled into tight spaces to reach the area where the Search Dogs had shown interest and found the third woman still lying in bed. She was pinned to her mattress by the ceiling of her bedroom, just inches from crushing her. When handler Jasmine Segura was able to get close enough, she could see the woman waving to her and heard her say, “Thank you,” in English. Rescuers cut out the mattress that the woman was lying on and were able to safely slide her out.

During Sunday’s shift, L.A. County RED TEAM (Ron Horetski & Pearl, Ron Weckbacher & Dawson and Gary Durian & Baxter) assisted the Task Force rescue squad in extricating a 50-year old woman from a collapsed building. She was successfully brought to safety, dehydrated, but with only slight injuries.

The Blue Team arrived back at the Base of Operations at 9:30 a.m. just as theRed Team got back to work. The teams have not been told when they will sent home, and are prepared to stay in Haiti as long as it takes.

SDF Executive Director Debra Tosch comments: “The rescues in Haiti underscore the critical importance of Canine Search Teams in finding survivors in the aftermath of major disasters. This is our mission, and we’re honored to be part of the Haiti rescue effort in conjunction with the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the L.A. Country Task Force.”

All of SDF’s Search have been standing by, ready to deploy to Haiti when called upon by their Task Force. Our Orange County and Sacramento teams were activated for deployment shortly after the earthquake struck, and were at March and Travis Air Force Bases since then waiting to depart. As of Monday morning, they were de-mobilizing and will be going home today.

January 20: More searching in Haiti / So-Cal Teams mobilize in advance of storms

All six SDF teams from the L.A. County Task Force search together as one group for the first time since they arrived in Haiti. CNN follows their progress. Meanwhile, SDF gets word of possible deployments in Southern California as torrential rains drench foothills left bare by last year’s wildfires.

Santa Barbara’s Linda Tacconelli & Joe pre-stage with the L.A. County Task Force in the event the heavy rains cause mudslides. With their other canine teams deployed to Haiti, L.A. County uses the “mutual aid” system to call in Deresa Teller & Ranger (L.A. City Task Force) and Marc Valentine & Val (Orange County Task Force). Orange County’s Rick Bartlett & Spuds, Davis Doty & Jester, Doug Van Iwaarden & Wylie, and Su Vodrazka & Hero are also told to prepare for local deployment in anticipation of tornadoes and flooding in their region.

January 21: the search continues / the storm advances

SDF Handlers patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince looking for buildings where survivors are most likely to be located. The canines remain in air-conditioned vehicles and are brought out when needed. After a long day of reconnaissance and searching, the teams return to the Base of Operations at 11p.m.

Ron & Dawson and Bill & Hunter search the Caribbean Marketplace where there may have been enough food and water under the rubble to sustain victims. SDF reaches Julie for the first time since her arrival in Haiti. She and her dog Dakota are doing well. They have spent most of their time searching at the market with international teams, as reported by CNN.

Meanwhile, Linda & Joe join L.A. County Task Force 2 on a recon mission in La Crescenta, CA to identify homes threatened by mudslides. They pump out excess water collecting in the yards of houses to prevent further damage.

January 21: SDF Handler Assists Local Family

Amid so much tragedy and sorrow in the wake of this devastating disaster, we wanted to bring you a simple story of hope. On most deployments, handlers try to keep their emotions at bay as they see to the job at hand. Today was an exception for one of them. He met a Haitian woman with two young children who had lost everything in the disaster. She had no home, no money and no means of reaching her sister in New York. Our handler lent the woman SDF’s satellite phone and she was able to get through to her sister. He also gave the woman some of his cash to help her get by and helped make arrangements for the journey. We cannot think of a better reason to have sent the phone with our teams, and we’re thankful we did. This act of kindness represents the true spirit of a rescuer.

January 22: Aftershock Interrupts Call

Baxter searching for survivors in Port-au-Prince Photo: UN Photo -Marco Dormino

Read article from the LA Times, "T.O. Man, Dog Help Save Lives in Haiti" 

As of 7:30 a.m. local time in Haiti, SDF Handler Ron Weckbacher reported the Search Teams in Port-au-Prince were awaiting their briefing for the day, when they would receive their search assignments. All of the dogs are doing well, and the Handlers are bringing back plenty of ideas based on their deployment experiences to share with fellow Handlers at home. Ron added that Pluis Davern, SDF’s Lead Trainer, should be very proud of the job the dogs are doing.

While speaking with us, Ron had to hang up quickly when a sudden aftershock rocked their Base of Operations in Port-au-Prince. He later reported that everyone is safe—they move away from any structures whenever there is an aftershock.

On the home front, SDF Search Team Linda Tacconelli & Joe have been released from their deployment pre-staging with California Task Force 2 for the possible mudslides and flooding in Southern California. They were pre-staged for five days while a series of powerful storms hit the Greater Los Angeles region and the surrounding counties. This was Linda and Joe’s first formal assignment since they achieved Certification in October of 2009. Linda reports that it was a great learning experience for both members of the team.

January 22: SDF’s Haiti Teams prepare to return home

In Haiti the teams respond to requests from the Task Force to confirm possible finds and provide general support in relief operations for the city’s population. Honored to have served, they await their official orders to return home.

As we come to the end of this dramatic deployment, our thanks go out to every SDF supporter who has helped ensure that communities throughout America–and beyond–have the emergency preparedness resources they need, and deserve.

January 28: SDF Search Teams back From Haiti


SDF Search Teams pose at their homecoming celebration in Pacoima, CA after 15 days in Haiti.
(L to R) Bill Monahan & Hunter, Ron Weckbacher & Dawson, Ron Horetski & Pearl, Jason Vasquez & Maverick, Gary Durian & Baxter, Jasmine Segura & Cadillac

At 6 p.m. PST, SDF's six Canine Disaster Search Teams along with the rest of California Task Force 2 returned home from Haiti after the 15-day deployment. Exhausted but thankful to be home, the teams were welcomed by a large crowd of family, friends and fellow firefighters. SDF Founder, Wilma Melville, was at the homecoming celebration to greet our teams:

The words on the phone were sharp, crisp and filled with excitement; "Our handlers have been activated for deployment to Haiti!"

As the founder of the Search Dog Foundation (SDF), these words meant a call to action; a leap into the world of reality and emotion. The reality is that these teams, all six of them, were highly trained, were honed for this call and were ready for action. Six healthy, spirited, rescued dogs had been prepared over a vast number of rubble piles to focus on finding a live human no matter what the conditions.

It was during the homecoming, the welcoming back from the Haitian deployment of the task force, that the emotional impact of what these dogs and handlers had accomplished found its way to my heart. I took three tissues with me to the Pacoima gathering. Would three tissues be enough? I had my iPhone with camera as I had been exhorted to bring back numerous photos of the SDF teams. Can one little iPhone do all that, I wondered. Bravely I set out, taking the concerns with me about how much I might cry and how trustworthy a tool the iPhone might be.

Task Force 2 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department stages at a warehouse setting in Pacoima. Red carpet had been laid out where the two buses were to stop. It took two buses to carry the 70 or so members of this elite Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. Among them were “my guys,” six Canine Search Specialists and six super canines.

With the TV filled with footage from Haiti, it was likely I would see our dogs and handlers in action. My heart must have heard the words before my ears, because it leaped into my throat with mention of "canine members of LA County Task Force Two have located three little girls…alive!" Alone at the time, all I could do was march about waving my arms and saying out loud, “There, I knew they could do it!”

Tears popped into my eyes when the voice on the loud speaker said, “Ten minutes out…the buses are ten minutes out.” I thought, “Oh, oh, one tissue down…two to go.” The crowd of about 300 became clearly more excited and in short order the buses rolled in. There was the exultant sound of happiness as blue uniformed team members exited the buses and family members grasped them, hugged them, kissed them and snapped flash photos of them. It was too dark for the iPhone to do its photo assignment.

There were speeches and a great deal of media activity. It was a holiday and a welcoming celebration all rolled into one. The word “validation” continually rolled through my mind. I thought, “Yes, ten lives were saved in Haiti by the combined effort of dog and human…and it has been worth every day, every night of effort to bring us to this place in time.”

The speeches allowed me time to think back to the tiny beginning of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. In 1996 our nation was pitifully short of the resource now known as the Canine Disaster Search Team. Would it be successful to train dogs rescued from shelters? Could these canine dropouts make the grade even with superb professional training? What would it cost and where will the money come from? Over time the endless questions were answered. Here we are today with rescued dogs turned rescuer. Here we have firefighters turned into Canine Search Specialists. Here we have success and the nation is the stronger for it.

There is much to be learned from these six handlers. Improvements in training will be immediate because they were there…because they said, “Yes” to a demanding training regimen that prepared them to do well during this Haitian deployment.

Better yet, this nation is now stronger in the area of disaster response. What one handler learns is shared among all canine handlers and the nation is all the better for it."

Read also: Search Dog Team sniffs out hope in Haiti