Special Operations


Search and Rescue: The Search and Rescue (SAR) program began in 1985 with agency support of a statewide training event organized by a small handful of volunteers. Currently, there are 20 volunteer SAR teams in Virginia, with nearly 500 volunteers who are supervised and trained VDEM personnel. These teams are on call 24/7, and their capabilities include ground search and rescue, wilderness technical rescue, cave rescue, K9 live-find and human remains detection, human tracking, and equine search. VDEM’s SAR program is routinely called upon nationwide for their expertise, and is considered one of the premier SAR organizations in the country.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS): In close coordination with the Department of Aviation and the FAA, VDEM recently established one of the nation’s first public safety drone programs. This program includes special training for public safety UAS operators, deployment of UAS in each VDEM region, the hosting of a joint international conference on Public Safety UAS with Piedmont Virginia Community College, and coordination of the York County and City of Harrisonburg UAS programs.

HazMat: VDEM’s hazardous materials program provides assistance and support to local jurisdictions and other state agencies and act as the State On-Scene Coordinator during emergency and non-emergency situations involving hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction. The VDEM Hazardous Materials staff, comprised of a Program Manager, eight Hazardous Materials Officers (HMOs), and a Radiological Officer, are trained and equipped to assist with the identification of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials and provide subject matter expertise, guidance, and access to other response assets. Technical assistance or on-scene response from one or more agency HAZMAT responders is available on a 24/7 basis. VDEM also coordinates 12 state hazardous materials teams consisting of trained hazardous materials technicians and specialists across the Commonwealth. More information on Hazmat can be found at: /threats/hazardous-materials/

Technical Rescue: Statewide, VDEM works with seven urban search and rescue teams who are responsible for the extrication and medical stabilization of victims trapped in collapsed structures.

Communications Cache: The Communications Cache Program provides training, administrative support, and operational coordination to communications related efforts statewide. VDEM maintains overall program management and direction, however there is significant involvement from the five host jurisdictions (Fairfax County, Harrisonburg City, Chesapeake City, Lunenburg County, and Montgomery County) to respond as requested and provide a full complement of communications equipment. While initially these caches were focused solely on radios, the teams have expanded capability and training to become proficient in providing data, voice, and video capabilities.

As with any program, the most important asset is the team member. The individual cache teams train monthly. The five caches come together quarterly to train as one cohesive team. This hybrid training approach ensures each team, and team member, is familiar with another teams equipment an capabilities.

The Communication Cache team continue to explore and deploy bleeding edge technology and are recognized on the national stage as model program.

Incident Management Teams: VDEM coordinates four regional incident management teams that provide expert staff from law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency management, and GIS. Each team is specially trained and experienced in coordinating operations and planning for complex incidents and disasters.

Swiftwater Rescue: VDEM has leveraged grant funds to develop a statewide swiftwater rescue program. Currently, 28 teams from across the state are working together to establish training, equipment, and deployment standards. This added capability will better prepare the Commonwealth for statewide flooding events.

Air Operations: The VDEM Search and Rescue Program has codified a statewide air operations plan that incorporates all aspects of aerial capabilities incumbent to a disaster (SAR, vertical hoist, damage assessment, personnel and commodity movement, etc.) This VDEM-led effort is coordinated with all entities providing air assets during a disaster, including US Coast Guard, Army National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Department of Defense, and numerous other assets to include drone operators.

Radiological Emergency Preparedness: VDEM coordinates emergency response and notification to radiological events at either resident nuclear power station (North Anna and Surry) through the Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) program. These include yearly drills evaluated by FEMA that encompass all localities surrounding the plants and all locality and state response organizations with radiological response responsibilities including the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Radiological Health, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia State Police and others. More information on Radiological Preparedness can be found at: /threats/nuclear-safety/