Search the Archive:

Back to the Weekly Home Page


Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

'Disaster dog'at work in New York 'Disaster dog'at work in New York (September 26, 2001)

Palo Altans Shirley and their dog, Sunny, help search rubble of World Trade Center

by Jay Thorwaldson

Before dawn last Wednesday, Shirley Hammond of Palo Alto left to join her husband, David, to help go through the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City.

She was accompanied by her "disaster dog," Sunny, a young male Doberman who has been specially trained to seek out trapped survivors. They are also known as "sniffer dogs."

Her husband, David, a retired structural engineer who for many years worked on Palo Alto area architectural and construction projects, already was back there helping teach New York firefighters and other rescuers about the unique characteristics of reinforced concrete structures.

Shirley Hammond was among the 62 members of the Urban Rescue team of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District who left for New York shortly before 6 a.m. last week on a military transport aircraft.

Both the Hammonds are veterans of other disaster scenes, including the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, a devastating typhoon in Hawaii and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

"He teaches the rescuers how to approach concrete buildings," she said of her husband. She said when David began researching how concrete structures fell apart, the main body of knowledge related to how brick buildings fell apart. She said David can show rescuers where to cut into a wall at the thinnest probable place -- meaning they would only need to cut through 16 inches of concrete compared to several feet.

"Our concrete jungle is a totally different kind of animal now," compared to the days of brick buildings, she said.

And Sunny -- running back and forth for exercise before takeoff Wednesday -- will be right at home there, she added.

Sunny is technically known as a "live-find dog," meaning he's trained to detect living persons. Shirley is classed as a "canine handler/search specialist" -- she has been in search-and-rescue work for 23 years. David is a member of an "Incident Support Team" of expert advisers.

Other members of a local canine search group train their dogs to find bodies, technically known as "human-remains" dogs, but unofficially nicknamed "cadaster dogs," a combination of cadaver and disaster.

Some dogs, such as Shirley Hammond's now-retired search dog, "Spice," are cross-trained to find either living or dead persons -- and they have a special signal to indicate which, a bark for a live person and biting a leather tag under their neck for a dead person.

The group operates under the aegis of the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner/Coroners Office.

"Each of us own and work with our own dogs, and they are wonderful dogs," she said. People use many different breeds and sizes of dogs, she noted.

In the rubble of the World Trade Center, she said they expect to work in 12-hour shifts.

E-mail Jay Thorwaldson at


Copyright © 2001 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or online links to anything other than the home page
without permission is strictly prohibited.