CPF Podcast: Cal OES Director Ghilarducci the Force Behind Creation of Urban Search and Rescue in California, Nation

Mark Ghilarducci wearing headphones and talking into a microphone

Mark Ghilarducci

As California heads into another wildfire season, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Director Mark Ghilarducci recently spent time with California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice on the CPF podcast – Fire Wire.

As one of the key architects helping form the state’s Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces, Director Ghilarducci highlights the key events that spurred the inception of US&R in California and nationwide.

Comprised of teams of local firefighters specialized in rescue efforts, the eight US&R Task Forces statewide are part of key response efforts to help keep Californians safe during a disaster or emergency.

Click the play buttons to listen to the entire excerpts.


Brian Rice: Talk to us about what you saw and how that idea germinated and grew into what it is today.

Mark Ghilarducci: The concern early on was a big earthquake hitting Los Angeles. So, in 1988, I convened subject matter experts locally and internationally to learn what a comprehensive multifaceted technical rescue program could look like.

We looked at programs in France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany and others that built programs that came out of World War II where they had multiple bombings of buildings. They were knowledgeable and honed in on heavy search and rescue, moving large debris to be able to rescue people.

So, I went there, I met with them, I brought them to California. 

Click the play button above to listen to the entire excerpt.

Events that Broke the US out of a Post World War II Response Mentality

Mark Ghilarducci: After working with all these experts, I drafted up a plan and program and asked for funding from California Governor George Deukmejian. The proposal was on his desk for a while, but a couple key events helped spur this program into action.

At first there were hurricanes that hit the East Coast, one of which was Hurricane Andrew, and it decimated the community of Homestead, Florida. Then, Hurricane Hugo followed. The locals did the best they could, but the response operations were dismal.

As we watched the East Coast get hit, something happened here in California – the Loma Prieta earthquake.

At that time, FEMA did not exist. As a nation, we were still caught up in a post-World War II, Cold War-era emergency management construct.

Click the play button above to listen to the entire excerpt.

Mark Ghilarducci: We came up with the name Urban Search and Rescue. We wanted to have a different name than Wilderness Search and Rescue. But in essence that’s how we identified it.

Back then, the Fire Service had “special forces” that actually went in to do complex operations. The federal government provided $2 million in grants for 25 teams across the country. Now, it’s all changed and they’re well-funded. But at the time, that’s how they started the program and California was a huge leader and an advisor in that.

Click the play button above to listen to the entire excerpt.

Additional Pressures in California is like a Game of Chess in Emergency Response

Mark Ghilarducci: Over the past five years, the state has experienced an unprecedented number of ever-complex emergencies and disasters. We had the COVID response, civil unrest, domestic terrorist event, at least 18 fires burning at the same time, with several of them being catastrophic wildfires burning down entire communities. 

Click the play button above to listen to the entire excerpt.


CPF Fire Wire — California’s USAR Teams

Cal OES Special Operations & Hazardous Materials Section

CPF Fire Wire


Most Popular Video

Cal OES Facebook

What We’re Tweeting

Find Us on Social Media Here

Find Previous News Stories

Portrait of Shawn Boyd The All Hazards podcast is hosted by public information officer Shawn Boyd who himself is a former television news journalist with 20 years of reporting, anchoring and producing under his belt.

Listen & Subscribe

Get it on Google Play