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Missouri Task Force 1 reflects on changes made to work since 9/11

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

There's no preparing for a moment that will change your life.

Doug Westhoff and Bryant Gladney had not seen the moment that changed the lives of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. They both spent that day, however, packing bags and loading boxes onto an aircraft that would take them to the rubble left behind from two planes hitting the World Trade Center.

Missouri Task Force 1 left Columbia on Sept. 11 with 62 people. The group would assist the federal emergency response in searching Ground Zero for several days as an urban search and rescue team. The search would turn up no survivors, but leaders on that mission said it helped the unit become better prepared for future deployments.

"We could not have been less ready to go than we were," said Gladney, who worked in logistics for the mission.

The team began assembling 64,000 different pieces of gear on eight aircraft palettes to take to New York City on the 11th. Doug Westhoff, team leader for Task Force 1 that mission, said the organization of the gear made it difficult to find items needed. Chainsaws, for example, might have been in one box while fuel cans were in another. The experience led Task Force 1 to organize its gear by theme, or caches.

"Having never really exercised this cache concept, it was an 'aha' moment -- you got to build kits," Westhoff said. "You got to put this stuff together so it makes sense. And you got to have repair parts there because this may be the only box we may have to work out of."

Westhoff said the caches now stay loaded and ready to go should the team need to deploy.

The team added two full-time positions for logistics work following the mission. Westhoff said he saw the importance of the work Gladney and others did from the Javits Center. Gladney said the mission taught him that teams deploying from other states should have resources to manage on their own for at least 72 hours to give local first responders time to focus on other life-saving tasks.

Missouri Task Force 1's search at Ground Zero did not turn up any survivors. Westhoff and Gladney said they remembered the throngs of people standing outside the secured area holding signs of missing loved ones.

“We came to the realization ultimately that survivors were out of the building when they came down," Westhoff said. "There was no survivable void space in those buildings because of the force that they came down. It just, it pulverized the concrete, it pulverized the glass. You couldn’t see, there was no computers, there was no desks, there was no chairs, it was just gray ash and dust with shredded paper, insulation, glass fibers, concrete. There was nothing identifiable.”

Westhoff said the process of searching for people following disasters has changed due to technology. Advances in mapping and communication make it so that teams moving from building to building can send information back quickly. The team recently performed such searches in Louisiana in response to Hurricane Ida and helped the state of Missouri catalog damage in Jefferson City following an EF-3 tornado.

Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.

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