Special Operations Program


The Tennessee Special Operations Response Program is a cooperative program between the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and the Tennessee Fire Chief’s Association’s Mutual Aid System (TMAS) utilizing state and local resources from multiple disciplines to create a network of highly trained and properly equipped response teams (TN-SORT) deployable to mutual aid requests for technical rescue and special operations assignments statewide and nationally. This program will support the resource needs as outlined in the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan (TEMP) for the Emergency Support Functions (ESF) 4- Firefighting, ESF 9- Search and Rescue, and ESF-10 Hazardous Materials.

The program is created by a formal working sub-committee of the TFCA’s Mutual Aid Committee with the support of TEMA, the Emergency Management Association of Tennessee (EMAT), the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads (TARS), and State Parks.

All local jurisdictions within the state are vulnerable from time to time for the need of additional outside resources to be deployed due to magnitude of the incident, available resources, and/or local capability limits. The state and local response agencies represented in the program include fire service, emergency management, law enforcement, emergency medical and rescue squads.

The purpose of this program is to create the framework for the creation and maintenance of the TN-SORT program. This framework includes standards of conduct, minimum training and equipment requirements, credentialing process, and activation procedures. The capabilities of this program include, but not limited to: Urban Search and Rescue (US&R), Swiftwater/ Floodwater Rescue Teams (WRT), Hazardous Materials (Haz-Mat), Rope Rescue, and Technical Rescue capabilities.

In all cases, the teams/individuals activated as part of this program will perform their duties for the benefit of the citizens and constituents of the impacted area when deployed. They shall conduct the operations of the TN-SORT with loyalty, integrity and impartiality, without allowing prejudice, favoritism or the opportunity for personal gain to influence their decisions or actions or to interfere with serving the public interest.

It is the responsibility of the sponsoring (response) agency/ team to prepare its team members before deployment regarding conduct expectations and training. Each deployed member is duty-bound by their sponsoring agency’s rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. Any violations must be documented, with appropriate follow-up action taken by the sponsoring agency.

The accreditation process as outlined in this program will serve as a guide to create the minimum standards for all teams throughout the state. While accreditation is not a requirement for local agencies or teams to establish or operate within their local jurisdictions, it will be a requirement for out of state responses. Additionally, for in-state activations, credentialed teams will be deployed as the primary agencies to coordinated mutual aid responses through the ESF 4, 9, and 10 functions.

Save lives utilizing a highly trained network of technical rescue teams deployable 24/7/365.

The vision of the TN-SORT is to create a statewide system of technical rescue and special operations teams that will assist state and local governments in times of disasters or large-scale incidents. The teams will be highly trained, properly equipped and capable of deploying in an efficient and quick manner when requested.

• Conduct analysis of current technical rescue/ special operations capabilities throughout the state.
• Identify gaps in capabilities in relation to risk.
• Establish minimum training, equipment, and activation procedures for response teams.
• Develop formal credentialing process for technical rescue/ special operations teams.
• Create relationships between state and local resources to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of responses statewide.

All representatives shall adhere to the following code of conduct to build public trust and ensure equitable treatment for all.


TN SORT members are expected to conduct themselves in a professional, ethical manner at all times. Remember, you are representing the State of Tennessee, TEMA, the associations that comprise the Special Operations committees, and both employing or providing organizations, and all others that participate, as well as yourself when deployed. Failure to follow Special Operations Program policy could result in removal from the task force and all evidence of violation(s) forwarded to the member’s employer.

Many times, we are deployed to areas that are experiencing an event that is one of, if not the worst, events of their lives. For that reason:

• Be considerate of the conditions under which the hosting Chief or organization is operating.
Be nice. Make suggestions politely but keep working while you are talking. Play your role.
• Operate safely or, please, stay home.
• Listen a lot. Help quietly.
• Appreciate the opportunity to serve.
• Do not talk to the media unless the host specifically asks you to.

Code of Conduct:

Responding personnel will conduct themselves in the following manner.

• Keep the value of life and the welfare of the victim constantly in mind
• Remain aware of cultural issues including race, religion, gender and nationality
• No pictures or information will be posted on any social media without the express consent of the team commanders, who will coordinate with the supported jurisdiction
• Abide by all regulations regarding the handling of sensitive information
• Follow local regulations regarding medical care and handling of patients and/or deceased
• Maintain your safety gear and clothing at all times
• No firearms or other weapons allowed by non-law enforcement personnel
• Not be in possession of non-prescribed or illegal substances
• Not consume alcoholic beverages while on duty or subject to call
• Only procure equipment through appropriate channels
• Do not take anything without proper authorization
• Be sure your supervisor always knows your location
• Travel only using approved roadways and do not stray into restricted areas
• Demonstrate proper consideration for other team’s capabilities and operating practices
• Not accept gratuities
• Willingly accept missions as assigned

Credentialing/Accreditation Process

Credentialing/ Accreditation Process

State Credentialing/Accreditation shall be coordinated through TEMA, in coordination with the TN Special Operations program committee.

Phase I: Application and Self-Evaluation Packet

Teams seeking State credentialing/accreditation shall complete an application and self-evaluation packet; to include a completed Mission Ready Package and Swiftwater Team Credentialing Tool. The requesting agency/team shall identify the type of team accreditation being requested and shall follow the application and documentation procedures included in the self-evaluation packet. Each team is being evaluated with an expectation to qualify with a minimum of 1 level of bench depth.

Included in the Self-Evaluation will be a review of the team’s:

•       Management- including sponsoring agency, any participating agencies, and team leadership.  If an inter-agency team, documentation supporting “how” the team is approved to deploy and defining the host/home agency; MOU’s or other documents that clarify the relationship  

•       Roster of Personnel- including related levels of qualifications. Each team shall maintain a current roster of all deployable special operations/technical rescue personnel. This roster must document, at a minimum:

-          Personnel Names

-          Team Position (qualified for)

-          Training Credentials

-          Payroll/Fringe Benefit Rates

-          Personal Contact Information

-          Emergency Contact Information

•       Personnel Records- training records, certificates, and documentation to qualify personnel for position, and documentation to support refresher/annual training requirements to maintain position status.  Certifications being submitted shall be no more and no less than what is required for position qualification.  All personnel records that are AHJ validations must clarify that the training or certification met or exceeded ASTM/NFPA standards and/or meets the intent of the training described in the FEMA RTLT or  Special Operations Program Guide.

•       Team Procedures and Documentation- including deployment, operations, and team operational structure.

•       Equipment Inventory - showing that the team has the equipment and supplies needed for the team type. Teams should show ownership and maintenance procedures for the equipment.

•       Vehicle Inventory - showing vehicles available to the team for deployments, including ownership of vehicles if not all owned by a single sponsoring agency.

•       Documentation of any Deployment and Training Experience

•       Annual Swim Test- showing documented completion for all team members

•       Mission Ready Package- completed to the best of your ability, based on current personnel, salaries, and equipment values

The TN-SORT worksheets should be utilized to provide uniformity between teams. The information should be updated annually or as changes are made to the information pertaining to the personnel.

Teams seeking State credentialing/accreditation shall submit the application and self-evaluation packet that includes use of the SWT Credentialing tool, to the appropriate TEMA Regional Office via the Local County EMA office. The TEMA Regional Office will forward the application to the TEMA Team Development Manager at TEMA Headquarters in Nashville.

The TEMA Team Development Manager will then submit the application and self-evaluation packet to the TN Special Operations credentialing committee. Once received, the TN Special Operations Credentialing Committee will distribute all documentation to one of the regional coordination teams for review and recommendation.

Once the Phase I Self-Evaluation review has been completed by the regional review team and recommendations are submitted to the TN Special Operations Credentialing Committee, a final recommendation shall be forwarded back to the TEMA Team Development Manager. The TN Special Operations Committee shall recommend that the team is ready for a site visit, that they require additional information or that the team is not ready for further evaluation.

Phase II: Site Evaluation

Once the TN Special Operations Credentialing Committee has reviewed the team application and self-evaluation and recommended the team for site evaluation, the TEMA Team Development Manager shall coordinate the assembly of an Evaluation Team composed of one or more TEMA District Coordinators from outside the team’s Region and select peer SME representatives from the TN Special Operations Program, preferably one from each grand division.  A copy of the Phase I Self –Evaluation will be provided to this Site Evaluation Team. The TEMA Team Development Manager shall schedule a Phase II Site Evaluation with the requesting team/jurisdiction and the Site Evaluation Team.

The Phase II Evaluation shall include an “on-site” peer review of the materials as defined in the “Phase I: Application and Self-Evaluation Packet” section of this document to include a review of the team’s:

·         Management

·         Roster of Personnel

·         Personal Records

·         Team Procedures & Documentation

·         Equipment Inventory

·         Vehicle Inventory

·         Documentation of any Deployment and Training Experience

·         Annual Swim Test

·         Mission Ready Package

The Phase II Evaluation will also include an Operational Readiness Exercise to show the ability of the Team to deploy and operate appropriately. This ORE may include testing of select skill sets.  Upon completion of the evaluation process, a determination will be made by the Special Operations Credentialing Committee as to full Accreditation or whether some areas need to be further addressed.

The Special Operations Credentialing Committee will notify the Team Development Manager of any deficiencies noted in the evaluation.  After receiving a formal letter from the Special Operations Credentialing Committee, the team will have six months to remedy all areas in question.  Once the team has completed the requirements as outlined by the Special Operations Credentialing Committee and all information has been received and verified, the Special Operations Credentialing Committee will offer a recommendation for team accreditation.

Site Evaluation Requirements/Expectations

To provide for team and evaluator safety all Phase II evaluations will be scheduled March through November of each year.  Exceptions can be made upon request if the climate remains tenable. Once dates are established and confirmed for the Phase II Site Evaluation, the team can anticipate the following:

·         A review and verification of all Application Checklist identified records and documentation

        o  Please identify a team leader to be in contact with the evaluation team prior to the event.  This person will assist in facilitating communications, preparations, and once on site will provide a direct point of contact for the evaluation team

        o  Please provide a low traffic area for paperwork/records review, for the evaluation team

        o  Please coordinate how documentation will be shared/reviewed (hard copy, digital, or thumb drive) with the evaluation team, prior to the site visit

        o  Please ensure that all team training records are in order and provide documentation to meet the typing requirement.

        o  Please do not provide additional training records that are not requirements for Team members

        o  If there is a deficiency found by the team, please utilize the Credentialing Tool (excel) to note the area that needs correction

        o  If personnel certifications are dated 3 years prior to the site evaluation, the team is required to provide verification of the team member’s annual/refresher training, either by documented records or by an AHJ verification statement

·         A review and verification of all equipment, vehicle logs, and maintenance records

        o   Please prepare to display all team equipment for evaluation and ensure that all required equipment is easily visible for verification

·      A Team Operational Readiness Exercise (ORE)

        o   The host agency should coordinate ORE site examination with the evaluation team, prior to facilitating the ORE; including areas of operation for the team and providing for ease of evaluator movement and visibility

        o   The ORE will require host agency assistance to prepare the site in coordination with the evaluation team

        o   The ORE will require the host agency to provide for safety throughout the exercise

        o   ORE participation should reflect the appropriate number of team members according to the team typing being sought

        o   ORE participation should only be composed of personnel who are specifically listed on the Team Credentialing Tool, for evaluation.

        o   Evaluators should be prepared to spot check team composition with rostered personnel and ensure that operating personnel are qualified in the appropriate position.

        o   In the event that a team is unable to successfully complete the assigned Operational Readiness Exercise as judged by the site evaluators, the team will be notified of their areas for improvement and may re-apply for credentialing 6 months after notification by the Special Operations Credentialing Committee. 

**Annexes for additional Special Operations and Technical Disciplines are under development**

Overall Program Guidance or Questions - 

Please contact Ryan.Thompson@tn.gov

Applications should be submitted with supporting documentation that includes:

  • A Completed SWT Credentialing Tool
  • A Completed Self-Evaluation

For ease of information-sharing, it is a standing recommendation that each team use an appropriate file-sharing network to store and deliver all team information, credentials, training records, etc.