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There's a Disney World For Disasters That Trains Emergency Responders

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The main attraction in Kansas's Crisis City, a disaster simulation zone, is a giant pile of rubble. It isn't easy, you know, to make rubble that is 1) structurally sound enough for trainees to crawl over safely and 2) structurally unsound enough to simulate a real disaster.

In the heart of Tornado Alley, emergency responders in Crisis City prepare for worst-case scenarios. Popular Mechanics took a recent tour of Crisis City, giving us a peek into the controlled chaos of disaster training sites. Aside from its big pile of rubble, the 45-acre site is also home to a derailed train, a leaking pipeline that spews (fake) natural gas, and an "urban village" where gunshots ring out. It's as if the apocalypse descended onto Kansas, hitting it with every possible disaster at once. Joe Pruitt, the site's manager, calls it Disney World for emergency responders.


A mock derailment in Crisis City

Crisis City is run by the Kansas Adjutant General's Department and rented out to emergency responders from all over, including the FBI, National Guard, and K-9 teams. Out-of-state agencies pay a fee, but Kansas-based agencies use the facility for free.


Ultimately, the most striking sight in Crisis City is its rubble pile, formally called the "Collapsed Structure." This piece of destroyed infrastructure is especially invaluable to canine search and rescue teams, which comb the debris looking for victims.

The victims are usually mannequins but sometimes volunteers, too, which creates an air of real tension. "I'll be honest with you, there weren't too many engineers that wanted to sign off on it being a safe structure, because you're dealing with still-shifting, moving rubble," Pruitt told PopMech. Safety officials and medics watch nearby, lest this fake disaster scene becomes a real one.

There are other bigger disaster simulation sites in the U.S., like the privately run Guardian Centers in Georgia, the largest in the country and home to an entire, flood-able replica of New Orleans's Ninth Ward.


What's most interesting about Crisis City and other disaster sites, though, may not be their new advanced structures but how they reuse pieces of old infrastructure. Recently, an eagle-eyed reader identified the subway cars in Virginia's army city as a pair that had derailed last year. Crisis City is currently seeking farm equipment and a grain bin to simulate incredibly tragic and common farming accidents. And smashed up cars in the rubble pile come from the local junkyard. Disaster zones are where old, retired infrastructure can get a second life. [Popular Mechanics, Kansas City Star]

Photos of Crisis City by AP Photo/Charlie Riedel