Feb. 22, 2002
Volume XXXV, No. 8


Of Note


Smith is Olympic rescue veteran

PHOTO Victoria Smith, a rescue training coordinator in emergency medical technology, traveled this month with the elite urban search and rescue team Texas Task Force One to protect the safety of athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics. The Olympic site is said to be one of the most heavily secured areas in the world.

A leader among heroes, Victoria Smith made her Olympic debut with Texas' elite urban search and rescue team, Texas Task Force One, which traveled to Salt Lake City to ensure the safety of the Winter Olympics. A rescue training coordinator in emergency medical technology at the Health Science Center, Smith is the university's representative on the task force.

Deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the nearly 70-member Texas Task Force One arrived at the Games six days early to inspect all areas, especially those likely to be targeted, and to preplan all routes of access and escape.

"There is no downtime for us," Smith said explaining her duties before she left. "We train constantly, and we are always on call." A California team relieved the Texans on Feb. 16.

Smith and her colleagues were not there to handle minor emergencies. "We don't treat the usual broken bones or sprained ankles that happen to athletes and spectators throughout the course of major events like this. Olympic trainers and paramedics handle those because we can't leave patients we're treating if we get a large-scale emergency," Smith said. "We're there as backup in case of a terrorist threat or attack. If a stampede of panic-stricken people occurs, bleachers are knocked over, or a bomb or biological weapon is set off — if the safety of a lot of people is threatened — we 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. 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 say Salt Lake City is one of the safest places in the world during the Olympics. The U.S. Secret Service, FBI and FEMA have coordinated counterterrorism measures. In addition, as many as 7,000 federal agents and state and local law enforcement officers patrol the Games. Thousands of military personnel are 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. Members 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.