College Station disaster training facility influenced by A&M professor’s experience assisting at ground zero after 9/11 attacks

Published: Sep. 11, 2021 at 1:09 AM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - The terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001, forever changed the lives of Americans across the nation. Especially for those who went to ground zero to assist in the search and rescue and recovery missions.

Kem Bennett senior professor in the Wm Michael Barnes ‘64 Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University and vice-chancellor and dean emeritus in the College of Engineering, was among them. He’s also a major part of the team that founded and designed the world-renowned Disaster City, a facility designed to provide simulated disaster scenarios for emergency responders and government officials to get hands-on training for when the unthinkable happens. Bennett said his time at ground zero influenced the formation of Disaster City.

“We thought about what worked, what could work better, and what we saw,” Bennett explained, “one of the things we recognized when we were there [was] the need for technology to be infused into search and rescue.”

Bennett said his team arrived with adequate technology. But he explained that when they went to use it, other search and rescue teams were able to upgrade their technology on the spot. Bennett said it was a huge upgrade and proved to be significantly more effective. Now, Disaster City uses the most state-of-the-art technology in its training programs and is part of the reason why teams from around the world come to College Station to train.

In addition to the need for technology, Bennet said the team also took away some intangible lessons.

“We took a chaplain with us, and we found out that was extremely useful,” Bennett explained, “your minds like a video camera. It may bring back some things that you witnessed. And it’s nice to have someone to talk to once in a while, and we found that useful.”

He said the concept of having a chaplain on search and rescue teams became a permanent practice for federal response teams after 9/11. Bennett explained that all emergency responders see images that can be difficult to deal with emotionally and added that it’s good for them to have an outlet to process that.

Watch the full video in the player above.

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