FAQs

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Have questions about Ground Zero? We have the answers. Take a look below.

FAQs

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Have questions about Ground Zero? We have the answers. Take a look below.

WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR GROUND ZERO EMERGENCY TRAINING CENTER?

Ground Zero is focused on two major goals:

  1. Train the People – only a handful of facilities exist that offer First Responders specialized training to respond to large scale disasters and mass casualty incidents. Even as specialists in their fields, First Responders must receive additional training in the unique skills required for such events. Ground Zero provides First Responder training in areas such as:
  • Logistics/planning
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Structural collapse
  • Search tactics
  • Communications
  • Basic & Advanced Medical Triage
  • Response to Active Shooter Incidents
  • Basic & Advanced Technical Rescue
  • Mass Casualty incidents
  • Canine search, rescue and recovery
  • Rope awareness
  • HazMat
  • K9 first aid
  1. Train the Canines – There is also a crucial shortage of qualified canines being trained to assist First Responders. To be accepted into Ground Zero training, a canine must pass a rigorous screening for exceptional physical, medical and mental strength and well-being. Once accepted, Ground Zero canines receive over 2,000 hours of training in agility, direction, and control, obedience and search work.

    Ground Zero recently started a limited breeding program to aid in the production of qualified canine candidates for various working canine disciplines as defined in H.R. 4577.

HOW DID GROUND ZERO BEGIN?

Ground Zero was founded in 2017 by legendary football coach Barry Switzer & his wife, Oklahoma native Becky out of a great desire to positively impact the shortage of highly trained canine and handler search and rescue teams. 

Oklahomans have a reputation for being generous, friendly caring people willing to do anything to help a neighbor. This “Oklahoma Spirit ” shines through even the darkest of tragedies, including the bombing of the Oklahoma City Murrah building in April 1995 and again during the devastating tornadoes of May 1999 and May 2013; and every event in between. 

Like so many Oklahomans, these natural and man-made disasters had a lasting impact on Barry & Becky Switzer and it was in the aftermath of these devastating events that the couple became aware of the critical shortage of qualified search-and-rescue canines.

When the 9/11 terrorist attacks stunned the nation, the Switzers felt so compelled to take action to positively impact the critical shortage of qualified search and rescue canines in Oklahoma and nationwide. They also discovered budget restrictions at the local, state and national levels were negatively affecting the ability for many task forces to obtain a search and rescue canine. Ground Zero Emergency Training Center was founded to meet these needs.

Becky & Barry Switzer

“The message rang loud and clear both in our ears and hearts that something had to change. We felt the deficiency could no longer be overlooked.” – Becky Switzer


WHAT ARE THE CANINES TRAINED TO DO?

  • Canines in training learn to search, locate and alert when a human scent is detected. This allows a first responder to know, for example, when someone is trapped, below a pile of rubble. 
  • The canine is also trained to ignore all other smells, including food that may have fallen out of the trash or overturned refrigerators, live or dead animals and most importantly they must learn to distinguish between the scent of the first responder and the victim who might be buried below the rubble. This specialized training is a proven method, providing certainty that, when a trained canine barks to alert the first responder,  there is, in fact, a person in need of rescuing. There is no technology to date that can compare in time to a canine’s nose or its speed to locate people that may be trapped in a collapsed building.
  • Canines must also be trained to navigate unstable footing, which may include collapsed concrete buildings or a wooden structure.  These types of structures may have glass and nails everywhere. Exposing the canines to a variety of structures during training prepares them for real-world disaster situations. 
  • Training the canines to work off-leash independently of their handler is important because the canine can search the scene of a disaster, more safely and effectively than a human first responder.

“Some people save dogs….our dogs save people” – Barry Switzer


What were Ground Zero’s founding goals?

Ground Zero’s mission is to strengthen emergency response to natural and man-made disasters at the local, state and national levels. In order to fulfill our mission, we have established three foundational goals:

  • Provide a state-of-the-art facility that effectively replicates disaster conditions
  • Provide exceptional, highly trained search-and-rescue canines at no charge to task forces
  • Provide advanced education, training, and support for our heroic First Responders
What is the impact of Ground Zero’s work?

The resources and increased level of readiness provided by Ground Zero dramatically affect the state of preparedness, mitigation, survival and recovery efforts for citizens of Oklahoma and across the nation. 

Ground Zero trained and placed 29 search-and-rescue canines in its first three years of operation, free of charge to task force teams. This number represents more canines trained and placed than any other search and rescue canine training facility in the country. Further differentiating itself, Ground Zero trains search-and-rescue canines alongside their human partners, providing approximately 2,000 hours of training to the canines before matching them with a first responder.

How is Ground Zero funded?

As a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, Ground Zero relies on the support of corporate donors, foundations and generous individuals to provide specialized training for first responders and their canine partners. Small or large, every gift makes a difference toward preparedness and saving lives. Learn more about ways to give →

What is the current demand for trained search-and-rescue canines?

Oklahoma is ranked in the top 3 states for disasters. In 2016, there were only nine dogs certified in Oklahoma to respond to disaster events and most were near retirement age. Oklahoma Task Force 1, comprised of emergency responders from Oklahoma City and Tulsa had been on the waitlist for over three years to receive new dogs. This put task forces in both cities in a vulnerable position in terms of disaster preparedness. Ground Zero now ensures Oklahoma Task Force 1 teams have the minimum number of dogs required to deploy.  While Oklahoma is a top priority, Ground Zero also provides highly specialized dogs to other task forces across the country, including Tribal Nations, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado and California, with other states currently on a list for a Ground Zero canine including Virginia and Massachusetts.

Who are the project beneficiaries?

Ground Zero works closely with the Chickasaw and Caddo Nations through provision of recovery canines.  Other collaborations include Oklahoma State University, the University of Tennessee and Southern Illinois University.  Ground Zero is committed to research, working with educational institutions to enhance canine health and performance. Intern programs for students, public and private entities are currently under development. 

What types of dogs can become search and rescue?

Ground Zero primarily uses Labrador Retrievers and Belgium Malinois but, will use any dog that has the drive and nerve strength to perform the job.

What are the canines trained to do?
  • Canines in training learn to search, locate and alert when human scent is detected. This allows a first responder to know, for example, when someone is trapped, below a pile of rubble. 
  • The canine is also trained to ignore all other smells, including food that may have fallen out of the trash or overturned refrigerators, live or dead animals and most importantly they must learn to distinguish between the scent of first responder and the victim who might be buried below the rubble. This specialized training is a proven method, providing certainty that, when a trained canine barks to alert the first responder,  there is in fact a person in need of rescuing. There is no technology to date that can compare in time to a dog’s nose or its speed to locate people that may be trapped in a collapsed building.
  • Canines must also be trained to navigate unstable footing, that may include collapsed concrete buildings or a wooden structure.  These types of structures may have glass and nails everywhere. Exposing the dogs to a variety of structures during training prepares them for real world disaster situations. 
  • Training the dogs to work off leash independently of their handler is important because the canine can search the scene of a disaster, more safely and  effectively than a human first responder.
What happens after the training?

As the dogs near the end of their training, future handlers are involved in an intensive two-week training course. Ground Zero trainers then partner each dog with a handler, ensuring a perfect match. Ground Zero canines play an active role in choosing his or her handler. The handlers continue to train with their canine partners, daily while the dog lives and works with the handler, working toward state and federal certification. 

Certification is required to deploy to a disaster as part of a task force within both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and State Urban Search and Rescue Alliance (SUSAR) systems. which test a search team takes depends upon the task force of which they are a member.

What is the cost to form a search and rescue team?

The average Ground Zero cost is  $50,000 to create a Certified Search Team. This includes recruiting canine candidates, caring for and training new dogs, partnering them with a handler, and providing the first year of advanced training toward Certification.

Why does Ground Zero primarily work with first responders?

As the first to arrive on the scene of a disaster, first responders already follow a  rigorous training regimen and can more easily, incorporate a search dog into their career and lifestyle. Civilians who are successful handlers must be able to match this training regimen and have a career in which they are able to have the dog with them at all times.

What does Ground Zero offer to first responders?
  • Highly skilled search dogs trained by one of the nation’s top canine instructors
  • A proven program of training for the canine-first responder team leading to DHS/FEMA Advanced Certification
  • Ongoing support to the team throughout the working life of the dog.
How long does it take to produce a certified team?
  • Highly skilled search dogs trained by one of the nation’s top canine instructors
  • A proven program of training for the canine-first responder team leading to DHS/FEMA Advanced Certification
  • Ongoing support to the team throughout the working life of the dog.
How long does it take to produce a certified team?

With Ground Zero’s unique program pairing a professionally trained dog with a first responder, new search teams are certifying faster than ever. The goal is for each team to achieve certification within eighteen months of being partnered, although some could excel sooner.