Guard Civil Support Team brings unique capability to exercise

By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith | National Guard Bureau

FORT LEWIS, Wash. – In a training exercise that involved a suspected improvised explosive device releasing an unknown poisonous gas, the Washington National Guard’s 10th Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team (CST) responded to the mock danger area May 2.

Their actions were part of a larger, national exercise hosted by the Department of Homeland Security called “National Level Exercise 2008” (NLE-08).

The multi-state venue joined federal, state and local responders May 1-8 in east and west coast training scenarios, which tested their ability to react to domestic emergencies.

Guardmembers here trained at the 52-building urban training center called “Leschi Town” on Fort Lewis. The comparative ghost town is an active-duty Army property on the southern end of the base’s 86,000 acres. Normally, it prepares combat Soldiers for military operations in urban terrain. Here, responders used it in NLE-08 to simulate downtown Seattle.

“Primarily for the CST, this isn’t anything above and beyond what they normally do, as far as the hazard and the detection of it,” said Jeff Taylor, U.S. Army North evaluator.

Taylor and a U.S. Army North team evaluated the 10th CST to see if the team’s response met a multitude of regulations and standards.

Civil Support Teams augment local and regional response capabilities in events known or suspected to involve the use of chemical, biological or radiological agents. Currently, there is at least one Guard CST in each U.S. state and territory.

“We are kind of considered second responders; with the local authorities being first responders,” said Capt. Matt James, CST operations officer.

James explained that when a CST arrives on the scene, they work for the local incident commander and bring him a unique capability to analyze suspected hazardous agents on site.

“We make a large effort to get to know many of those local authorities throughout the state as possible,” said James.

“One of the things that they are able to gain here is working with additional state and federal forces as well as civil authorities,” said Taylor. “It’s more of the concept of the joint operation with the multiple agencies involved and how they would work with them in a real event.”

On their arrival at the exercise, the CST immediately set up their operation area. They readied their medical truck, analysis lab truck and communication equipment. They put up a decontamination tent and an operations tent.

A two-member survey team carefully checked and donned “Saratoga” chemical suits and self-contained breathing systems to enter the mock chemical hazard area evaluators had laid out for them.

The survey team then combed through Leschi Town looking for hazardous agents with their detectors and radioed in information pertinent to responders including the location of mock civilians needing medical attention and extraction. Exercise officials reported 77 mock deaths in this scenario with more than 1,800 injured.

James said such exercises test the team’s readiness to respond to actual emergencies, including actions on-site like collecting information, analyzing, conducting operations and working with the community.

“They are all things we need to continually rehearse to stay proficient,” he said.