ARLINGTON, Va. – The District of Columbia National Guard’s 33rd Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team showcased their equipment for the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and other senior DHS officials in Washington Nov. 18.
Civil Support Teams are the Guard’s experts in dealing with weapons of mass destruction. They can advise and assist civilian first responders in identifying and responding to such incidents.
Janet Napolitano listened to CST members and toured their response equipment display here at DHS headquarters to better understand their mission and capabilities.
Each state and territory have at least one 22-person CST comprised of Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen. California has two CSTs and New York and Florida each have additional teams now in training for certification.
Officials said each CST deploys to an incident site within three hours of notification using a command vehicle, operations trailer, a communications platform called the “Unified Command Suite” (which provides a broad spectrum of secure communications capabilities), an analytical laboratory system vehicle (containing a full suite of analysis equipment to support the characterization of the hazard) and several general purpose vehicles.
Napolitano asked questions as she walked though the Guard’s display. She asked about their personal protective gear and monitoring equipment, and she climbed inside the CST’s mobile laboratory and communications trucks.
Later, the team stayed on site to answer questions from other DHS officials who stopped by.
Army Lt. Col. Keith Bauder, the CST program manager for the National Guard Bureau, said it’s important for the secretary to be aware of their capability because it shows how the National Guard is a “force multiplier with the civilian first responders in a domestic emergency.”
“One of the important things we did today was to show the secretary what we can do in a WMD incident … and if she needs to call on the Guard to assist first responders, she can be confident that the Guard is there and is well prepared,” he said.
In Fiscal Year 2008, officials said the Guard’s CSTs responded to at least 99 response missions and 218 standby response missions — its highest rate in more than four years.
Among the teams’ many real-world missions last year was the Democratic National Convention, flood recovery in Iowa, the presidential inauguration, the G-20 Summit and multiple “white powder” incidents. The teams also participated in state and national response exercises and met a mass of training and certification requirements.
For most CST Guard members, regular displays of their equipment and missions are a necessary duty, performed to educate incoming state leaders, adjutants general, elected officials and the public.
“Last year we set up for the secretary of defense …” said Bauder. “It’s a routine demonstration to show the capabilities, not only to civilian personnel but also to the military.”