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Urban Search and Rescue

Urban Search and Rescue


The Disaster Response Department of the Hellenic Rescue Team has been active in urban search and rescue (USAR) operations since 1994, taking the form it has today in 2003.

The purpose of the DRD is its immediate and coordinated response during mass and extensive disasters in order to carry out search and rescue missions, as well as the continuous training of its members.


The Department is organised as follows:
A) Director
B) Head of Training
C) Logistics and Supplies Manager
D) Equipment Maintenance Manager

It should be noted that the Director is selected by the Board of the HRT from among the team’s active members, based on the criteria of his or her practical contribution to the team, as well as their leadership skills. The remaining members are proposed by the Director and approved by the Board.

The operational sector of the Department comes under the Operations Division of the HRT, while the HRT’s Training Division is responsible for the training sector.


The HRT’s Disaster Response Department is in close cooperation with United Nations’ International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).

The Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team is staffed by members with the following specialisations, independently of its strengths and operational involvement:

•    Management
•    Logistics
•    Search
•    Rescue
•    Medical


The DRD’s long experience, its advanced technological equipment and the excellent (and continuously updated) training of its members allows it to operate completely successfully wherever it is called upon, in the following areas:

1) natural disasters response
a) earthquakes response
b) water pumping
c) combating wildfires
2) updating schools and other bodies of the latest earthquake protection measures and conducting drills.

As regards the training of HRT’s members, it should be noted that this includes, in addition to continuous training in the basic skills of a rescuer (provision of first aid, climbing techniques, orientation, etc.), specialised training such as:

•    techniques to locate victims entrapped in collapsed structures,
•    entering collapsed structures and extricating victims,
•    extrication of victims entrapped in vehicle collisions,
•    rescue from floods,
•    rescue from fires,
•   as well as handling the special technical equipment required for each of the above cases. 

In order to familiarise the rescuers with real situations, preparedness exercises are held regularly on a local or nationwide level, in collaboration either with the local branches or with other bodies, such as the Fire Service, emergency services (EMAK), municipalities, other voluntary organisations, etc.
For example:
•    Komotini 2005 – 2nd Nationwide Earthquake Response Exercise
•    Volos 2006 – Earthquake Response Exercise with the participation of 300 HRT members and 60 Turkish volunteer rescuers
•    Patras 2009 – 6th Nationwide Earthquake Response Exercise
•    Thessaloniki 2010 – Participation in a joint exercise with 16 voluntary organisations in a scenario involving a destructive earthquake in a factory
•    Thessaloniki 2012 – Joint training with the emergency services to locate victims in collapsed structures and the safe use of rescue equipment
•    Thermi 2013 – Participation in the AEGIS exercise, the 1st Camp Organisation and Management Exercise, held by the Municipality of Thermi in collaboration with 9 voluntary organisations.

The HRT’s participation in international exercises, as part of the development of operational relations and the exchange of know-how, is a given.
Typical examples include:
•    Armenia 2005 – International UN/INSARAG exercise with the participation of 15 countries
•    Cyprus 2006 – International UN/INSARAG exercise with the participation of 14 countries
•    Turkey 2006 – Joint exercise with Turkish bodies

Providing information to schools, agencies, businesses, etc. on the earthquake preparedness and response and Emergency Plans, activities such as planting trees, cleaning beaches, pruning trees in situations of need, etc. and the department’s participation – jointly with the First Aid Department – in a large number of other events are just a small sample of its activities and illustrate the sense of social responsibility that characterises the HRT.

The HRT has a long history of successful missions both in Greece and abroad (in a continuous collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). These include the following:
-    Aigio earthquake (1995)
-    Turkey earthquake (1999)
-    Athens earthquake (1999)
-    Algeria earthquake (2003)
-    Morocco earthquake (2004)
-    Indonesia earthquake (2004)
-    Pakistan earthquake (2005)
-    Magnesia earthquake (2006)
-    Achaia earthquake (2007)
-    Haiti earthquake (2010)
-    Chile earthquake (2010)

- Thassos Wildfire (2016)
- Kos earthquake (2017)
- Lesvos earthquake (2017)
- Mandra (Attiki) floods (2017)
- Mati (Attiki) wildfire (2018)
- Chalkidiki typhon (2019)
- Samos earthquake (2020)
- Elassona (Thessalia) earthquake (2020)

- Turkey earthquake (2023)

The crowning achievement of all the HRT’s efforts, however, was the great earthquake in Haiti in 2010, when its members made every Greek proud by finding and rescuing 23-year-old Exantus, when all the other rescue teams had stopped looking for survivors.


The department has specialised equipment, specifically:
•    Hydraulic rescue tools, including a spreader, cutter and extension ram
•    High pressure air bags (pneumatic lifting bags)
•    Stabilisation kits (chocks and blocks)
•    Gasoline-powered rotary saws
•    Water pumping systems
•    Camera for locating victims in collapsed structures
•    Sonar for locating survivors in collapsed structures
•    Telecommunications equipment

In addition to the above, the department has the necessary equipment at the ready to support search and rescue operations.


Among the future priorities and goals of the Department, in addition to strengthening the operational preparedness of its members (through continuous training and exercises), are:
•    The development of new contacts and collaborations/joint trainings with other bodies, teams and specialist schools abroad as well as international organisations,
•  Regularly upgrading its technical equipment so that it can be ready at any moment and the Department can act as a worthy representative of Greece in international missions.

Other relevant articles:


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Hellenic Rescue Team is a non-governmental organization, whose members participate in Search and Rescue missions on a voluntary basis since 1994.

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