Turkey earthquake deployment

Turkey is a country of approximately 779,450 Sq Kilometres and is bordered by Bulgaria and Greece in the Northwest by the Black Sea in the North and by Georgia and Armenia in the Northeast. To the East it is bordered by Iran and Iraq with Syria to the South and the Aegean Sea to the West.

The capital of Turkey is Ankara with a population of approximately 3,000,000 with Istanbul the largest populated area with a population of approximately 8,000,000.

Turkey has a varying climate with a constant high temperature in the holiday areas to the south and warm summers and cold winters in the mountainous regions to the north, with temperatures frequently dropping well below freezing.

Turkey is one of the most seismically active areas in the world with a major fault line running from east to west across the north of the country. Turkey has suffered many serious earthquakes, more recently the Izmit quake that killed 17,000 people and affected a widespread area. RAPID-UK deployed a team alongside the international response successfully locating three casualties.

Following this event Rapid-UK was approached by the Turkish organisation GEA (Group Ecologic Active) who would like to establish a search and rescue team for national and international response as well as being pro-active in preparedness work. With local and national support an initial training course was carried out in October to establish their capabilities and any future training programmes. GEA also established themselves as a registered charity under the name of RAPID-Turkey (RT) with the same aims and objectives as its counterpart RAPID-UK.


At 1857 local time (1657 GMT) on the 12th November an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck the Bolu region of Turkey destroying many buildings in the city of Duzce and surrounding towns and villages. RAPID-UK was notified within the hour of this event by the RT headquarters in Istanbul who were deploying team members into the area to assess the requirement for search and rescue teams. A team from Rapid was put on stand-by and contact was made with a dog team in Spain who are also affiliated to Rapid-UK to make ready a search dog team.

At 1730 GMT a request was received for assistance with the search and rescue effort from RT with a formal request from the ministers office at 1900hrs. Flights were booked with British Airways on the next available flight and arrangements to fly the team from Istanbul airport by helicopter were put into place. Whilst information was being gathered the Rapid team was mobilised to the Gloucester headquarters to check equipment and for pre-deployment briefs. Contact was maintained with RT headquarters who were in contact with their team in Duzce who were carrying out rescue operations and a quick assessment of any help required.

Personnel on the ground quickly established that although this earthquake was no where near as devastating as the previous quake in August 1999, many new buildings had collapsed and some outside help would be required. This information was passed by RT headquarters to the respective Turkish government departments.

Unfortunately a general assistance message was sent for international assistance which resulted in the mobilisation of overwhelming resources from around the world. Rapid-UK received a call from Mr Rob Holden of the Department for International Development (DFID) informing that a C130 was on notice to fly out a combined British contingent to Turkey in response to the Turkish government's request and would we like to take up this offer of transportation. Unfortunately this very prompt offer had to be turned down as all mobilisation arrangements had been made, including helicopter deployment from Istanbul and it was felt that the arrangements already made would see the team deployed into the DA within 20hrs of the event. It should be noted that the duty officer of DFID acted very promptly following the request from the Turkish government, mobilising and inserting an effective team in a short time scale.


The RAPID-UK team deployed to Heathrow airport during the night and departed London for Istanbul on an early morning flight. On arrival at Istanbul airport two members of RT and an official interpreter who had previously worked with the team met the team at the door of the aircraft. Bypassing formalities the team was taken into the cargo hold to identify and load equipment directly onto a waiting vehicle.

Once all equipment had been accounted for the team was moved to the helicopter pads where a military helicopter was waiting to take the team on to Duzce. From landing at Istanbul airport to being airborne by helicopter with team and equipment had taken just 20 minutes. We also managed to get two forward reconnaissance members of the Swedish rescue team onboard the aircraft for deployment to Duzce.

The flight to Duzce took approximately one hour with a very short stop to refuel on route. The helicopter landed on the sports ground where equipment was off loaded. The team was informed that it was required at a town outside Duzce called Kaynasli which had suffered heavy damage and no international rescue teams were yet in that area. The time of arrival in Duzce was 1515hrs local.


The team arrived in Kaynasli by helicopter and linked up with the RT team who had split operations between Kaynasli and Duzce. Whilst a base camp was established a briefing took place. The RT team had already carried out an assessment of the area, with six buildings that required searching. Although this town had suffered heavy damage it's size was very small with many of the buildings one or two storey homes.

Information was received that the RT team in Duzce required specialist equipment for buildings that they had identified, one where a person had been heard calling earlier. RAPID-UK split their resources and sent four members including the team leader to Duzce with sound location equipment and to set up a forward base camp.

The team left in Kaynasli carried out searches of the identified buildings in conjunction with the RT team, all buildings were cleared quickly with the exception of a transport café which had the possibility of unknown person missing (truck drivers). Contact was made with a French team who had just arrived with dogs to carry on the search this building.

The team deployed to Duzce linked up with RT and were shown the buildings that required searching. It was decided that one large building would be a protracted search, therefore a forward base camp was set up at this location together with nine members of RT and a group of local engineers working on the site. The team was taken a short distance to a four-storey building of eight apartments with the bottom two floors compressed. One 14 year old boy was missing from the ground floor compartment, his farther provided the necessary information for the search team his last know location and the exit route were taken into account. After two hours inside the building cutting down from the first to the ground floor the boys body was located in the corridor.

The team then concentrated on a main apartment block where a person had, according to locals been heard calling earlier. This building was originally of five floors, each housing five apartments. The building had slipped backwards compressing each floor in a V shape, throwing off centre all the main corridors. Again information was gathered from locals, relatives and the engineers working on site and it was established that there were only two people missing, a young married couple missing in their apartment on the second floor. Due to the stillness of the night a sound location search was carried out over the following two hours.

Unfortunately there was a large amount of loose debris in the searching area, it was agreed that the engineers and local workers would clear out all the loose debris down to the second floor ceiling area to allow better contact with the location probes.

The remainder of the team had now moved up from Kaynasli to form one base camp on site. Whilst the debris clearing was taking place the team received a request to search the Internet Café in the city centre where it was thought several people may be missing. The temperature had now dropped to -5 degrees with hundreds of people on the streets with little more than a camp fire to protect them from the elements.

A search team deployed to the Internet Café together with a local guide, unfortunately the area was deserted, therefore the team had to act upon the only information available that this building together with adjoining collapsed buildings had not been searched. Although every building in this street had collapsed it was established that several had collapsed from the previous earthquake in August.

A fingertip search of the Internet Café was started, after one and a half hours the building was cleared and it was established that no persons had been trapped in this building. A search commenced of the adjoining buildings, which comprised of several linked shops of some depth and living accommodation above ranging from 3-5 floors. No persons were found during this lengthy search, however a scratching noise drew the attention of the search team, who made an access hole into a small void only to find a cat that had been trapped in a confined space.

During the deployment to the Internet Café the remainder of the team had carried on the search using sound location of the apartment block where the base camp had been established. During the night an UNDAC representative had called into the camp requesting the address of the street. A request was made to the UNDAC team for two search dogs to be sent to our location as the Spanish team that should have linked up with us had been sent to a different location. The UNDAC representative ensured the dogs would be sent shortly. Eight hours later no dogs had turned up, therefore two members of the team were dispatched to locate the nearest dog team and ask for their attendance at our location.

At day break on Sunday 14th November having received no positive sound location with the missing couple the team, together with the Turkish engineers set about pinpointing the possible location of the exit route from the apartment (hallway) and making access where possible. Two German dogs arrived on site with their handlers and two members of the Rapid team, they were requested to cover the areas where the two missing persons were thought to be including the voids that had been enlarged. Unfortunately these dogs were unwilling to search in the voids and their handlers withdrew from the site.

The Rapid team's co-ordinator together with the Turkish teams Team Leader was sent to attend a meeting set up by the UNDAC team at the stadium. Whilst this meeting was taking place a team member was sent with two members of the Turkish team who were from the area to tour the city and establish if any areas were not covered by search teams. It was reported back that one building where a Turkish team had rescued two people, still with 10 people unaccounted for, had now been left. This information was passed to the Swedish team who had arrived and not been able to find a location to work.

The Co-ordinator of Rapid reported back that very little had come from the meeting as the briefing room was so small that only half the personnel could get in. The information from UNDAC was that there was now up to 2,000 rescue workers and hundreds of dogs in the area with teams still trying to get in. The city was to be divided up, unfortunately with no maps available this was not an easy task for the search teams. A sector was allocated to one of the UK teams who were unclear of the area to search as no copy of the map had been made available only a zone number.

With any major disaster that involves a large city the resources are always channelled into this area and the outlying towns and villages receive little help in the early stages. Using past experiences it was decided together with our government interpreter a small combined team would go to the helicopter pad and try to secure a helicopter for a reconnaissance mission of outlying areas. A general map of surrounding towns and villages was provided and together with local Turkish rescuers an action plan was formulated. After a short time at the helicopter pad the Turkish Airforce agreed to take a reconnaissance team out and would make a helicopter ready in approximately one hour.

During this time a member of UNDAC who requested that they would like to carry out this task approached the team. The team willingly handed over the maps and plan to the UN representative. It was hoped that our actions had prompted others to act upon this task at an earlier stage, if the task is carried out then it does not matter who performs it.

Heavy equipment had now been brought in to help with the search in the apartment block. A local apartment block that had partially collapsed was also searched it was not know if anyone was missing. The building was cleared and marked up accordingly. During the afternoon of the 14th the couple missing in the apartment block were located in the hallway.

At this stage several large rescue teams who had recently arrived in the area and were looking for buildings to search were approaching the Rapid base camp and asking if we could point them in the direction of buildings to search. All these teams were informed they should now be reporting to the Co-ordination centre for any tasks, according to the team's leaders this they had already done but there were no areas that had not already been covered. Two of the recently arrived teams (one 60 strong) were sat on coaches very close to our base camp location with no sit commitment.

A combined team briefing was held and the opinion was that Rapid and its Turkish counterparts had carried out searches on all buildings, that it had either been requested to or had been given local information on. At this stage there were no buildings left to search that were not already being covered and there was an excessive amount of search and rescue teams in the area, who were now, maybe adding to the problems. The many people on the streets with nothing more than a camp fire were starting to ask what these rescue teams were doing sat around in vehicles doing nothing.

The decision was taken to withdraw the team back to Istanbul with some of the Turkish group. A final request was received to check a private house close by this was carried out and it was established no persons were missing. The team started its journey back to Istanbul at 1900 hrs stopping at Rapid-Turkey's headquarters before departing on the Monday morning British Airways flight back to London.


The magnitude of this earthquake in an area that had previously suffered from the earthquake of August 1999 that claimed approximately 17,000 lives meant that internal resources where going to be stretched. To maximise those still trapped alive inside buildings the Turkish government acted very quickly in requesting international assistance. Unfortunately a general request was sent for international help which resulted in a large amount of rescue teams being deployed from around the world some 250 personnel in strength to a relatively small area compared with the August quake.

RAPID-UK working closely with its sister organisation in Turkey and governmental departments were able to mobilise very quickly with the appropriate authority and were one of the first international teams working in the disaster area. Over the following 24-36 hours the international search and rescue response was enormous, to the extent that many teams were touring the city for work and on many occasions searching buildings that had already been searched or had collapsed during the previous earthquake.

Again questions have to be raised over the size of some of the supporting international teams and the sheer logistical problems that brings, as should the standard of some search dogs and indeed the methods used by some teams to search a building. Search dogs forming an integral part of a rescue team should be trained to an international standard and assessed on their proficiency to search and clear a building and held on a central register. It is quite clear that this is not happening with individuals and groups training dogs to a standard they think is acceptable.

The mobilisation of the UK participants was swift and direct with DFID playing a lead role in deploying the UKSART team in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence. It is very reassuring to know that had Rapid not previously arranged its deployment that the DFID had an effective system in place that would have incorporated all teams.

Following this powerful earthquake it was certain that international search and rescue support would be required, just how much help is an issue that is sure to open up discussion.

Working with Rapid-Turkey was not only a tremendous advantage for a quick deployment but also of immense value on the ground with local knowledge of buildings and streets and an indigenous dedication to the task that resulted in one person being rescued alive.

RAPID-UK team operating in Turkey

John Holland (Team Leader)
Susan Shirley
Paul Blewitt
Chris Pritchard
John Miller
Barry Sessions
Michael Hollyhead
Stuart Welland

RAPID-Turkey Team
30 strong divided into two teams working in Duzce and Kaynasli.

Other teams known to be in the area:

French: 2 teams
Israel: 3 teams 250 +
UK: 4 teams 50 +
Germany: 4 teams 60+
Japan: 100 +
Poland: 60 +
Russia: 100 +
Spain: 2 teams
Switzerland: 100 +
Turkey: 4 teams plus several private company teams and national structured emergency response.
Greece: 2 teams
Finland: 40
Denmark: 40 +
Czech Rep
Bulgaria: 2 teams
Austria: 2 teams 120 +
Sweden: 45 +
USA: 60 +

This is not an exhaustive list several countries are missing and numbers may vary, however this gives an indication of the international response and the size of some of the teams deployed. It was estimated that over 2,000 rescue workers were in the area with 150 plus search dogs.

Buildings searched by combined Rapid team:


Five domestic houses
One roadside café handed over to the French dog team


Four floor apartment (8 apartments)
Five floor apartment (25 apartments)
Four floor block flats
Internet Café
Two buildings housing five shops with flats above
Five floor building partial collapse
Two floor private house partial collapse

Statistics (as of 18th November 1999)

Dead: 550

Injured: 3,313

Unaccounted for: Not known (thought to be very few)

Homeless: No figure available (thought to be in the thousands)

Buildings damaged: 750 - figure from Turkish government agency this may include buildings that were damaged or collapsed during the previous earthquake.

RAPID-UK would like to thank the following for their support:

Association of Pathfinders: deployment support

Pedigree Masterfoods: for the supply of team rations

SERCO Aerospace

Rank Xerox

Haig Engineering: For releasing personnel from their workplace



Hertfordshire Police

Once again a special thanks must go to British Airways for their excellent help and support of the team in reaching the disaster area. Without the support of British Airways Rapid would not be able to respond in such an effective manner.