Why Peninsula Rescue Group is Not Going to Haiti

By Lori Preuitt and Olsen Ebright
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 7:12 AM PDT
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Crew Preps for Trip to Haiti

The search and rescue team with the Los Angeles Fire Department arrives at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti Tuesday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

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A highly trained search and rescue team from the Bay Area says it is staying put  and not heading to Haiti.

That news is unusual because it seems like the Menlo Park Search and Rescue Team is often the first to response to major disasters.

The peninsula teams says it is staying in the Bay Area in case of a local terror attack. They say they also need to be ready in case a recent swarm of earthquakes develops into something bigger.

"We always have to be prepared domestically. We want to help our neighbors, but also have to vigilant and protect our own country," Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

Schapelhouman said the job ahead in Haiti will be a tricky one because the damage is so widespread.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department urban search-and-rescue team is on the case.

That group landed Thursday in Haiti to provide help in the aftermath of the magnitude-7 earthquake that rocked the Caribbean island nation.

Commanders of the 72-member team received a request Tuesday from the U.S. Agency for International Development and set up a staging area at the Urban Search and Rescue facility at 12605 Osborne St. in Pacoima. Team members received the deployment order at about noon Tuesday, and departed Wednesday from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, said county fire Inspector Frederic Stowers.

The specialized team will be self-sufficient, Stowers said.

"They'll be working together," he said. "If necessary, they'll coordinate with members of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti for translators. But these guys are trained to be self-reliant."

French is the dominant language in Haiti. No French speakers had been identified on the county's urban search-and-rescue team, but the potential language barrier was the least of squad members' concerns, Stowers said.

The California Task Force 2 team includes firefighters, paramedics, rescue specialists, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, search dogs and handlers, hazardous material technicians, communications specialists and logistics experts.

The rescue team will bring with it 55,000 pounds of prepackaged tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search-and-rescue operations.

On Wednesday night, a search-rescue team from Orange County also was preparing to leave for Haiti. That team consists of about 80 firefighters, structural engineers, doctors, paramedics and handlers with their search dogs.

They were scheduled to leave March Air Force Base Thursday morning.

A Mission Viejo church received an e-mail Wednesday confirming that its missionaries were safe. The e-mail also provided a first-hand account of the destruction.

"It's overwhelming to see all the devastation and injuries," Jim Duggan, leader of the missionary team, wrote, according to the OC Register. "We pray more doctors and nurses will come."

The church lost phone contact with the group after the earthquake. Church officials send Twitter messages asking for information about missionaries at the Maison de Lemiere orphanage. They were encouraged when they saw tweets regarding the orphanage from a missionary in Port Au Prince.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement of support.

"I have directed my Emergency Management Agency to continue to work closely with our federal agency partners to ensure California stands ready to immediately offer any additional assistance needed to help Haiti recover from this devastating earthquake," Schwarzenegger said.

The earthquake struck Tuesday at 12:53 p.m. Pacific Time about 10 miles southwest of the capital of Port-au- Prince, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Countless buildings lie in ruins in the densely populated capital city, and  hundreds of thousands of people are feared dead.

The Los Angeles-based international aid organization Operation USA announced that it will be sending medical aid to Haiti. Information on donating to the group is available online at www.opusa.org or by calling 800-678-7255.

Other organizations that are organizing relief efforts can be found here.

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