Somers said rescuers don’t think about long hours and horrible conditions until afterward.

“When you do get to work it us under austere conditions: rain, heat, humidity,” Somers said. “You don’t really realize it at the time, but it hits you when the work stops. It’s exhausting.”

Ten days after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the Phoenix search and rescue team was demobilized for one day before being forward deployed to the Orlando Convention Center to wait out Hurricane Irma. Once it was safe, Somer’s team was sent to where Hurricane Irma made landfall, Marco Island and a small fishing village called Goodland where they went house to house.

Members of the Phoenix Fire Search and Rescue Team, Arizona Task Force One search Goodland, Florida following Hurricane Irma.

“Goodland was 'ground zero' for Irma mainland landfall,” Somers said. “No rescues were made, but we conducted wide area search operations to ensure everyone was out.”

Somers was deployed for three weeks. As a professor, he says there are valuable lessons he can pass along to his students. There is also a new trend that he’d like to study further. The specialty trained FEMA search and rescue teams were joined by a private group of boat owners from Louisiana and nearby areas called the Cajun Navy. Somers would like to examine the role of volunteers responding to natural disasters.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions