Crisis City, just outside the little town of Lindsborg, Kan., looks and sounds like a nightmare. From an apartment block built of old shipping containers, the sounds of gunfire and screams drift past the twisted wreckage of a derailed train. Nearby, in the shadow of the concrete rubble of a collapsed building, wooden debris sprawls beneath a clear blue Kansas sky.

Joe Pruitt calls it the Disney World for emergency-response instructors. Here in Crisis City, a disaster training facility built and operated by the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, emergency responders can train for disasters from train wrecks and terrorism to tornadoes. “If you can dream it, out here, you can make it happen,” he told PopMech.

One of the most popular training venues at Crisis City is a pile of concrete rubble meant to replicate a collapsed four-story building, where responders practice searching for victims in the debris. Simulating such destruction is a challenge, especially when instructors need to hide mock victims in the rubble. Beneath the jagged slabs of concrete and twisted rebar, concrete tubes at the center of the pile radiate outward like spokes from a shipping container. Using those tubes, instructors can place mock victims in safe hiding places to await rescuers.

Typically, those victims are mannequins, but some training requires real-live volunteers. That complicates the project even further: The rubble pile’s designers had to balance safety concerns with the need for realistic training, and create a structure that feels unsafe but, in fact, is safe for the rescuers and mock victims.

“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. During training, safety officials watch for signs of dangerous shifts in the rubble, and medics wait nearby in case of trouble, much as they would at a real disaster scene.

To keep the training fresh and challenging, instructors sometimes drill into the pile and insert new access tubes or move old ones around. The pile’s designers built in large voids, so that facility staff can add vehicles to the debris. Crisis City gets a steady supply of cars on loan from a local junkyard for the purpose; they usually return them smashed and cut up almost beyond recognition.

Next door a pile of wooden debris constructed from old pallets represents something familiar to many emergency responders in this notoriously stormy region. “We’re not going to have a four-story building collapse all the time, so it’s not going to be always concrete. You’re going to see wooden structures and homes that have been blown over by tornadoes,” Pruitt says.

Like its concrete neighbor, the wood debris pile is built atop a network of concrete tubes for access. Most often, it serves as a training site for canine search and rescue teams. These volunteers may be among the first to respond when a tornado strikes, especially in rural areas and small communities.