What is a Disaster Team?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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A disaster team is a group of individuals who can mobilize quickly to respond to a disaster of any scale. Disaster teams may be maintained by government agencies which are responsible for providing disaster response, along with private humanitarian organizations who wish to be able to provide on the ground assistance during disasters. Members of a disaster team can be quite diverse, from truck drivers to surgeons, and people who are interested in joining a disaster team can get information from community organizations and agencies.

Members of a disaster team undergo an initial training session which prepares them to respond to a variety of disasters including natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and landslides, along with nuclear disasters and public health issues such as disease outbreaks. Disaster teams can also deal with responses to terrorism and other emergency situations. Once trained, members of the team are expected to attend periodic refresher sessions to keep their skills sharp.

A disaster team may be generalized or specialized. Some are comprised of small, highly mobile group of specialists which perform tasks like animal rescue, identification of dead bodies, and so forth, while others include a much larger crew which can offer a range of services.


Many disaster teams include members who have regular careers which can be temporarily suspended to allow them to respond to a disaster. For example, members of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) include working professionals in the funeral industry who have agreed to suspend operations at their businesses when called upon to do so. Disaster team members can include law enforcement professionals, scientists, heavy equipment operators, demolitions experts, veterinarians, and a wide variety of other skilled professionals.

Equipment for disaster response is classically maintained in a containerized form in a central location so that it can be easily accessed. Members of the disaster team can travel to the equipment and deploy with it, or travel separately to the site of the disaster to respond. Equipment typically includes everything people could possibly need, from mobile surgery trucks with fully equipped hospital rooms to portable kitchens which can be used to prepare food for team members; if it would be needed in a disaster response, it's included in the equipment, under the operating assumption that necessary equipment could be difficult or impossible to obtain while a disaster response is occurring.

Many cities maintain a disaster team as part of their disaster preparedness plan. The team members are trained to respond to incidents in their home city, and the disaster team may be loaned out to a community in need by special arrangement or if members of the team want to volunteer. For example, disaster teams from communities all over the world descended upon Southeast Asia in the wake of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, providing services ranging from building emergency housing to identifying the dead.


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Post 1

Disaster team members also may train together so if they are called to action, they can respond quickly and efficiently. Some disaster teams are volunteers who took Red Cross disaster training and can offer their help where it is needed.

Disaster team response is invaluable. These folks often leave their homes and families for long periods of time to help others. When the April 27, 2011 tornadoes ripped through Alabama, there were teams helping who had come from as far away as the Carolinas and even the Midwest to help get the power back on and rebuild. Alabama residents will be forever grateful for their generous and unselfish aid.

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