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Unique Texas facility prepares first responders for major catastrophes

Facility preps first responders for catastrophes
Texas facility prepares first responders for major catastrophes 02:12

College Station, Texas — Simulated train derailments, earthquakes and other emergencies can all be found in a 52-acre complex known as Disaster City in College Station, Texas, where elite rescue teams learn to save lives.

"There's no replication of this kind of thing," Stephen Bjune, Texas A&M Task Force 1 training manager, told CBS News. "There's smaller sites that have little bits of this, but nothing to my knowledge in the United States, or even the world, has this much disaster on this kind of scale."

Texas A&M Task Force 1 is one of 28 nationwide rapid-response Federal Emergency Management Agency search and rescue squads, and it uses Disaster City as its training ground.

Disaster City has more than a dozen disaster scenarios, each based on a real-life catastrophe, including a flattened parking garage modeled after the one underneath the World Trade Center.

"So the guys come in and build these shores to help make the structures safe," rescue specialist Kevin Mathison explained.

From 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina to the Surfside condominium collapse, Texas A&M Task Force 1 has been on the front lines of the nation's biggest disasters.

Like all task force members, this is a second job for Mathison, who works full-time as a firefighter.

"These scenarios basically train us for any disaster that could happen in the world," Mathison said. "It sets it up to where it's very realistic for us."

The task force train on executing technical rescues which require planning and engineering skills, and even sometimes using volunteer victims.

"It's a perishable skill, the things that we learn here," Bjune said. "They're so technical and so specific that ... if you're not constantly swinging that hammer, or using that saw ... it perishes and you're not ready to be able to do it again when you need it." 

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