A leader among heroes, Victoria Smith next month will head to Salt Lake City with Texas' elite urban search and rescue team, Texas Task Force One, to ensure the safety of the Winter Olympics. A rescue training coordinator in emergency medical technology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Smith is the Health Science Center's representative on the task force.
Deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the nearly 70-member Texas Task Force One will arrive at the Games six days early to inspect all areas, especially those likely to be targeted, and preplan all routes of access and escape. Opening ceremonies are Feb. 8.
"There will be no downtime for us," Smith said. "When we're there, we'll be training constantly, and we will always be on call." A California team will relieve the Texans on Feb. 16.
Smith and her colleagues will not be there to handle minor emergencies. "We won't be treating the usual broken bones or sprained ankles that could happen to athletes and spectators throughout the course of major events like this. Olympic trainers and paramedics will handle those because we can't leave patients we're treating if we get a large-scale emergency," Smith said. "We'll be there as backup in case of a terrorist threat or attack. If a panic-stricken stampede of people breaks out, bleachers are knocked over, or a bomb or biological weapon is set off — if the safety of a lot of people is threatened — we will take action."
At the Health Science Center, Smith trains some of the nation's best emergency medical personnel in rescue, which requires expertise in ropes, water, caves and confined spaces. Despite a rigorous selection process, membership in Texas Task Force One is voluntary — in fact, the Health Science Center graciously allowed Smith the time off to participate in the Task Force's two-week deployment.
Smith is a medical specialist on the task force's reconnaissance team, the team first on the scene, and she is trained in weapons of mass destruction. When she is not training, teaching or rescuing, she teaches her daughter's Girl Scout troop to rappel.
Officials have said Salt Lake City will be one of the safest places in the world during the Olympics. The U.S. Secret Service, FBI and FEMA are coordinating counterterrorism measures. In addition, as many as 7,000 federal agents and state and local law enforcement officers will patrol the Games. Thousands of military personnel also will be on hand, along with more than 5,000 personnel specially trained for security roles.
Texas Task Force One was called to action in the Texas floods of Del Rio and Houston. It also contributed to rescue efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing and the recent attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York. FEMA can send Texas Task Force One to rescue sites anywhere in the world.