TODAY   |  March 26, 2014

How to prepare for an unthinkable disaster

TODAY takes you behind the scenes of the Guardian Centers, a unique and realistic training ground for first responders in Perry, Ga. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, as we've shown you in the last week alone, rescue crews have been called to a devastating mudslide in washington, kids caught on ice and a train derailment. how do first responders prepare to face those situations and others? kerry, good morning.

>> reporter: well, good morning, savannah. the scene here could not look more real. this looks like the aftermath of an earthquake or maybe a terrorist bombing. but the smoke, the fire, the sparks, the rubble, it's not here for entertainment. it's here for very real world preparations.

>> reporter: the setting, the guardian centers in perry, georgia. this is the disney world of rescue scenarios. it's home to just about every natural and manmade disaster.

>> how real is this?

>> we're as realistic as we can think and dream and build without putting someone in harm's way where it's lethal.

>> first responders from all over the country come here to experience amazingly realistic scenarios. this one mimics the terrorist bombing in oklahoma city . one of the nation east most experienced search and rescue teams from fairfax county , virginia, is racing the clock. greg woods is trying to get through 12 inches of concrete. it's only here as he dangles that he learns jackhammers don't quite work the same as when you're on the ground.

>> it makes it interesting if you're not anchored to the wall. the tool requires you to push down on it to actually apply force.

>> a nervous 7-year-old is hoisted and then gingerly released into the ruins. she's on the scent for survivors.

>> how did she do?

>> she's a little bit nervous. it's definitely a realistic scenario.

>> and under the disaster scenes here in the darkness, there's an elaborate tunnel system. this allows those victims to insert themselves right into the rubble.

>> reporter: 500 yards away, teams in the replica of the lower ninth ward. the only way to reach some victims is through the roof. but unlike katrina, first responders have learned they no longer have to leave pets behind, even if they're goats.

>> they're family members. you know, we've got to do everything we can to rescue the whole family.

>> this facility used to be a cruise missile factory. tunnels designed to hide warheads are now a subway disaster scene. back outside, actors challenge. bringing the created emergencies here to life.

>> the training that the guys and gals are getting here today will save somebody somewhere.

>> reporter: the guardian centers here is privately built. the teams that are here are being funded this week by usaid and by fema. they come here to get real world training. and, you know those cars that were destroyed in hurricane sandy? well, they weren't crushed, they were brought here, and they were put in this collapsed garage and other facilities where later today teens will get in there and practice on real cars trying to extract victims in what is the closest to a real situation they could come up with. back to you guys.