UW News

June 2, 2005

The PEAT Team: UW’s first responders

UW News

If there’s an earthquake, remember to drop, cover and hold. Members of the UW Pre-Entry Assessment Team, called PEAT for short, will surely do that, too — but then their thoughts will turn quickly to suiting up and helping others.

The PEAT team is the University’s first response in times of disaster, charged with evaluating whether buildings are safe to enter for rescues and repairs after an emergency hits campus.

“It all started many years ago, there was a grant for the UW Police to set up light search and rescue teams,” said Doug Gallucci, hazardous waste supervisor for the Environmental Health and Safety Department. But, he said, “At that time we came up with the idea that we needed a way to enter buildings and either assess to see if it’s safe or actually perform rescues.”

The idea bounced around campus awhile until February of 2001 — and then the Nisqually earthquake happened. Then it started getting serious attention.

“What happened was, the 911 system was quickly overwhelmed with calls, such that they could not have responded to them all — they got thousands of calls.”

That brought attention to the matter, and Gallucci said, before long, about $100,000 in funding was allocated to start the teams up. The money came from a larger federal Homeland Security grant.

“That’s what gave us the basic go-ahead. It was almost all for equipment and some initial training,” Gallucci said. So in 2002, volunteers were recruited from among the Environmental Health and Safety employees and a team of a dozen was chosen from about 15 who stepped forward. They got the OK from their supervisors and started training. The team continues to train once a month.

Now ready for action, Gallucci said, the PEAT team is stocked with 72 hours worth of food and water, a gas-powered air compressor and even its own generator for times of power outage. “How the team is structured is, we’re designed to operate autonomously for 72 hours.”

He stated the team’s mission succinctly: “After a major event we are able to enter a building containing hazardous materials and have several different monitoring devices — we use those plus what we can see to determine the status inside the building. We can then relay that to the campus emergency operations center, and at that point the people in charge at the center can make the decision whether to send them (other responders) in.”

In addition to the PEAT team, there also are CERT — Campus Emergency Response Teams — begun in a pilot program and likely to multiply on campus in coming years.

Steve Charvat, UW emergency management director, said CERT teams are funded by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The program was initially designed to help residential areas hit by emergencies to get through the first three to five days, until more help is able to get through. Charvat said the program has been modified a bit to apply to the UW campus community.

CERT teams are building-based, and there are currently three on campus — one in Gerberding Hall, the Communications Building and the Health Sciences Center. Charvat said more grant money has been awarded to expand the CERT teams on campus.

Gallucci, who oversees the PEAT team, said keeping up-to-date inventories of the chemicals used in a lab is one way researchers can help stay safe in the event of an emergency.

“It’s housekeeping. Look at those counters — if there are lots of chemicals on those counters, what happens if the room shakes?”

John Wallace, an industrial hygenist with Environmental Health and Safety, eagerly stepped up to join the PEAT team when it was created, having had chemical spill-response training and experience in a prior job. “A lot of us have that in our background,” he said, “so when this need arose, we were just kind of excited for the opportunity to do something.”