The Origin of Miami Dade’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Program

Episode #23

Recent disasters this summer including the devastating condominium collapse in north Miami, the Haiti Earthquake, deadly floods in central Tennessee and Hurricane Ida’s impact in the Gulf Coast and Northeast have demonstrated the crucial role of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams. In this episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, we discuss the origins of Miami-Dade’s USAR program and how it led to the national program we have today.

Key Takeaways

  • [00:30] Podcast introduction
  • [03:00] How has the event in South Florida earlier this summer played a role to highlight the importance of the Urban Search and Rescue program?
  • [09:25] How did the response to the Champlain Tower partial collapse compare to past disasters in Miami-Dade region?
  • [13:15] Tell us how you know our next guest, former Fire Chief Dave Downey and what is his role with search and rescue?
  • [14:15] Introduction of Chief Dave Downey
  • [14:35] What is the history of the search and rescue program in Miami-Dade?
  • [17:00] What is the one of most memorable events or responses from your career where search and rescue played a crucial role?
  • [32:00] How did the Israel USAR team help with this response?
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Carlos Castillo Masked
Carlos J. Castillo, CEM
Senior Vice President, Chief Development Officer

Carlos Castillo serves as the Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer (CDO) for Tidal Basin Group. As CDO, Carlos oversees the growth functions of the company and Tidal Basin’s operations in the Caribbean.

An internationally recognized leader in emergency and disaster management with more than 40 years’ experience, Carlos joined Tidal Basin directly from FEMA, where he most recently held the position of Acting Deputy Administrator for Resilience. In this role, he led an organization of more than 1,300 employees and managed the following sectors:

  • The Federal Insurance & Mitigation Administration
  • The National Preparedness Directorate
  • The Grant Programs Directorate
  • National Continuity Programs
  • The Office of Counterterrorism and Security Preparedness
  • The Office of Resilience Integration and Coordination

He also served as FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for Disaster Assistance where he led the Individual and Public Assistance Programs after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike among other major disasters.

Prior to his work with FEMA, Carlos held several leadership roles at the local, national, and international levels. His 26-year career with Florida’s Miami-Dade County in fire and emergency services included managing some of the nation’s largest disasters and three years as Director of Emergency Management where he managed the county’s response and recovery for the 2004 and 2005 historic hurricane seasons. He also served as the Regional Disaster Officer of the South Florida Region American Red Cross. Carlos was instrumental in developing the Urban Search and Rescue Response System for the United States, and internationally for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. In addition to his decades of government experience, he also led the disaster risk reduction consulting services for a large consulting firm.

Carlos has taught as an Adjunct Instructor in the Masters of Disaster Management program at Florida International University and a guest lecturer on disaster resilience and risk reduction at the University of Miami and Georgetown University. Carlos holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Florida International University, is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM), and has represented the U.S. internationally through his disaster management work with the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Consortium.

Carlos J. Castillo, CEM, was interviewed by Jacksonville's CBS@47 and FOX30 Action News' Letisha Bereola discussing FEMA's approach to preparing for hurricane season 2020 in the wake of a pandemic and what to do to be ready to handle the possible effects of Tropical Storm Isaias:

Chief Dave Downey headshot
Dave Downey
Chief (RET)
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue

After 37 years in the fire service and 31 years with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey retired in 2019. Dave Downey was first introduced into the fire service when he joined the Fire Explorer program before being hired as a Firefighter/Paramedic with Sunrise Fire Rescue in 1982.

In January of 1988, Dave was hired as a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Metro-Dade Fire Department, currently known as Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Since joining Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, he has led an impeccable, distinguished career working his way up the ranks as a firefighter, company officer, battalion chief, division chief, and assistant fire chief to eventually become fire chief in 2013.

Originally operating as a single-unit fire patrol in 1935, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has grown into one of the top ten largest accredited fire-rescue departments in the southeastern United States. It is currently staffed by over 2,500 employees, including almost 2,000 uniformed firefighters who are trained in both fire suppression and emergency medical response. The County’s full-service fire and rescue department is responsible for dispatching resources over an area of approximately 1,883 square miles. This area includes 70 fire stations which respond to all of the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade County and 29 municipalities within the County.

Chief Downey has been a member of the FL-TF1 US&R since 1991 and currently serves as one of the Task Force Leaders. He has responded to numerous disasters domestically as well as internationally, including the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and earthquakes in Haiti and Turkey. Chief Downey is also a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Fire Protection Association, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, and the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association.

Above and beyond his accomplished professional experience in the fire service, as an educator since 1987, Chief Downey has developed and taught a wide range of EMS and firefighting programs. He earned an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science from Broward Community College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from Barry University, and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University.


To learn more about FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue program, click here.