Training for the unthinkable, KPRC 2 goes inside ‘Disaster City’

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Everything from train derailments to collapsed buildings has been recreated at an elite training ground known as ‘Disaster City.’

This is where Texas A&M Task Force 1 trains to respond to all manner of calamities. Members of the task force were among the first to climb the remnants of the World Trade Center to search for survivors following the 9/11 attacks.

“The enormity of it all was just overwhelming,” said Chuck Jones, who responded to the 9/11 attacks with Texas A&M Task Force 1. “For a few seconds you think about the lives that were lost and how are we ever going to find these people?”

Jones is still a member of the task force and has responded to dozens of disasters since 9/11.

“I’m glad I’m still doing it, I’m glad I still have the ability to respond when people need help,” said Jones.

The task force is based at Texas A&M University’s Engineering Extension Service in College Station.

“We’re able to emulate here what we saw somewhere else in an actual disaster area,” said Jones.

Disaster City began with a replica of the World Trade Center collapse and a pancake house with a collapsed roof.

Two decades later, the “city” now has more than 100 training props. Collapsed garages, derailed train cars, planes crashes, refinery fires, maritime emergencies; even a mockup of a building hit by the blast created during the West, Texas explosion have been created to allow crews to train in as close to real-world scenarios as possible.

Jones said even chemical and radioactive scenarios can be conducted in “Disaster City.”

“Our people are able to train here on replicas of what we’ve seen in the past to try to better ourselves for the next deployment,” said Jones.

Jones is eager to share those experiences, which is why after retiring from 31 years in the fire service he came to work in “Disaster City.”

“That’s what I get out of it, the ability to pass on those experiences and the knowledge to the next generation,” said Jones.

It’s not just a search and rescue, the task force has also been called in to shore up buildings so investigators can safely walk inside to begin searching for causes to certain tragedies. Jones said firefighters, rescue specialists, doctors, paramedics and engineers from around the world come to the “city” for training, along with Texas A&M Task Force 1.

Texas A&M Task Force 1 was created in 1997 in response to the Oklahoma City bombing. The task force became part of FEMA’s national urban search and rescue system in June 2001.

You can read the deployment history of the task force here: