Right next to Interstate 75 just north of Perry sits a city you probably don't know exists. It has no permanent residents, and it's in a constant state of emergency. But what goes on in the disaster city could one day save your life.
An urban search and rescue team, responds to an explosion at a college dorm. The building and an attached parking garage have collapsed. The team has to search the rubble for victims treat them on site, then get them out of the rubble, and to a hospital.
These doctors and paramedics from all over the country are going through 50 hours of training, to be certified to serve on urban search and rescue teams.
"The extreme realism is second to none," said Keith Fontana an Illinois Urban Search & Rescue Paramedic. As part of a team from Florida, Dr. Jorge Hernandez deployed to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. "I like the idea of helping people." "I was in the hole with the patients treating them before they were extricated." --"It's incredible." He says this training is as close to that experience as he's seen.
Illinois paramedic Keith Fontana agrees. "Everything that we would see in a disaster that we would respond to, they created here." Here is The Guardian Centers. "There's really no other facility that has this scope and scale," said Vann Burkart of the Guardian Centers.
Private investors spent $51 million to buy a former missile factory and transform it into an amazing disaster training facility for the military and federal, state, and local emergency and law enforcement agencies. "We do like to pride ourselves on having a facility that can facilitate and replicate almost anything you would find in the real word," Vann said. The center includes an entire city of buildings- a school, a church, a post office.
A subway station with real Washington, DC metro railcars, plus collapsed steel and concrete structures. This was constructed to replicate a church that collapsed during an earthquake in New Zealand. It looks unstable, but it's actually quite stable and safe. All this debris, well, that's a different story, tons of it brought in to enhance the realism of the training. "It's all about the realism. You cannot beat a realistic collapsed structure," Vann said. This disaster city even has its own private 1.1 mile long interstate.
"Possibilities are endless for that. High speed pursuit, vehicle extrication, route clearance," Vann said. "Rescuers can go out on a boat and actually, literally cut through the roof and rescue people out of homes."
GM donated 300 cars trainers can crash, crush, or blow up. And then there's the entire neighborhood that can be flooded with 5.5 million gallons of water. Another unique feature, armored tunnels under the collapsed buildings that lead role players to rescue pods where they hide from trainees during exercises.
"Exercise participants dig down through the rubble, find one of those rescue pods. They breech it. They make entry, and they pull a live role player out of the rubble," Vann said. It all adds up to a training experience first responders can't get anywhere else. "I think it gives them the best reality that you can find in the country," said Joe Hernandez of Disaster Medical Services.
A disaster city preparing them to save lives in real cities around the world.
The Guardian Centers has been open less than a year. Eventually they hope to have people training there 40 to 50 weeks a year. The facility can handle several thousand trainees at the same time for one huge exercise or multiple scenarios.