Jerusalem-based ZAKA Search and Rescue volunteer organization was invited for the first time to participate in the annual Inter-American Defense College seminar in Washington, DC at the end of January.

Members of security and emergency services from 65 countries shared best practices related to training techniques and operational management of disasters on an international level.

ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein led a panel that reviewed the crucial role volunteer-based organizations can provide at disaster scenes. Goldstein highlighted the international rescue unit’s extensive experience collaborating with professional emergency and security forces around the world in response to natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and typhoons in places such as Haiti, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal and, most recently, Houston, Miami and Mexico.

ZAKA, founded in 1995 in Israel, established its International Rescue Unit more than a decade ago. The unit now has 600 trained volunteer paramedics and search-and-rescue professionals in more than 20 countries including, among others, the United States, England, France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Siberia, Georgia and Guatemala. It received recognition in 2005 by the United Nations as an international volunteer humanitarian organization, due to its key role in aiding natural disasters and terror attacks around the world.

The organization made headlines in September when members of its Mexico volunteer unit recovered the body of Rabbi Haim Ashkenazi, head of the Kehillat Magen David synagogue in Mexico City, from the rubble of the office building after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico’s capital.

ZAKA was also among the Israeli aid organizations that provided clean-up assistance in Houston and Miami in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last fall.