This urban search and rescue disaster codes decoded knowledge should be part of your emergency preparedness skill set. Being able to understand the marks that search and rescue workers spray paint upon buildings after them have gone through them will help you know what is going on around you in a natural disaster.
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There are a lot of photographic and written accounts capturing the impact of Mother Nature and also charting the fluctuating movement towards recovery.
Sometimes in looking at the recovery efforts, simple images collected en masse can make a profound statement. A collection of photographs capturing the recovery crew markings called X codes creates a solemn and thought provoking look at the block by block search and rescue efforts. The simple graphics that are unintelligible and therefore mysterious to the uninitiated, create a striking reminder of the volume of people effected by one historic event. They are always bordered or written in an X with indicators scrawled within.
In the United States, a different FEMA marking system is used on searched structures, as follows:
A single diagonal slash indicates that a search in the building is in progress. This is used to indicate searcher locations and to avoid duplication of the search effort.
An X inside a square means “Dangerous – Do Not Enter!”
An X with writing around it means “Search Completed”, with the time (and the date if appropriate) written above the X, the team conducting the search written to the left side of the X, the results of the search (number of victims removed, number of dead, type of search such as primary or secondary) written below the X, and any additional information noted about the structure to the right of the X.
Markings on searched structures usually use the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group marking system:
A 1 meter by 1 meter square with G or N (for go or no-go), the team conducting the search, the date and time of the start of the search, and the date and time of the completion of the search written inside.
The number of live victims removed is written to the left of the square.
The number of dead victims found is written to the right of the square.
Persons unaccounted for and/or location of other victims is written below the square.
Additional information on hazards pertaining to the structure is written above the square.
Any reference to building floor numbers use ground as G, 1 as the first floor above G, B1 as the first floor below G, and so forth. This is contrasted with US floor numbering, that starts with 1 as the ground level.
When the team has cleared the building to the best of its ability, a circle is drawn around the square.
When the building has been confirmed clear, a horizontal line is drawn through the entire marking.
INSARAG marking squares should be written in day-glo orange.
A layout of repeating graphics is a moving reminder of equality, proof that nature can affect us all, block by block, community by community. Seeing the symbols laid out one after the other creates a stirring reminder of the sheer impact of disaster on communities but it can also give a little voice of hope, seeing the efforts made to identify everyone affected.
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