New Jersey's Urban Search and Rescue team has a cool shorthand designation--Task Force 1. Its mission, trying to locate and save people in a disaster, requires guts and technical know-how. Created in 1997, the task force consists of specially trained and equipped firefighters, police, emergency medical personnel and engineers. They brought their German Shepherds and probing cameras and worked long hours in Manhattan after the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

But if there was any proof needed of the peril and precautions needed for its work, just check with engineer Bryan Juncosa. He is a Kinnelon, N.J.-based marine and civil engineer who played a key role in the task force's work at the Tropicana rescue and recovery operation in Atlantic City on October 30, 2003. Just prior to talking about the Tropicana with ENR, Juncosa completed a detoxification therapy program needed to relieve the lingering health problems from his 9-11 work.


"I had been feeling fatigue, achiness, weakness. I'm also a diver and need my lungs." He's feeling much better now. But his health problems didn't stop him from responding to the call about the Tropicana last year. He has been on Task Force 1 longer than any structural specialist.

The task force's arrival in Atlantic City was a welcome sight to some local firefighters. "It was like John Wayne and the marines landing on Guadalcanal," recalls Capt. Michael Mooney, who worked at the operation's command center.

According to Sgt. Daniel Mitten, one of the task force's leaders, its job isn't to take over from local rescuers. In fact, before Task Force 1 sets up its tents and computers and begins working, local officials must formally give it permission to go on the site.
"A lot of these operations don't go well because of turf battles," says Juncosa. "The classic was the World Trade Center."

Exactly the opposite occurred in Atlantic City, where no one seemed overly concerned with turf and everyone seemed focus on finding and saving the construction workers.
Not long after the task force got down to business about 1 p.m., it decided that the remaining missing workers were probably dead and that the operation was a recovery effort.

The biggest concern was that a stranded, unsupported 85-ft-high wall section could fall and trigger still more collapse. In the end the wall was monitored diligently but never touched.

Instead, Juncosa and the team decided to tie back the top beam from which the garage bay's upper floor slab was hanging. He told a team of ironworkers--hundreds of workers from the area had gathered, eager to help--that he wanted the 5/8 in. steel cable arranged in almost a V in plan and anchored to the columns several spans away from the collapse zone.

The cables were tightened with come-alongs. "I wanted them to get the sag out of cables, so it started resisting any overturning quickly," says Juncosa. The work took about two hours, and the search for the remaining workers lasted into the night.