Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson
Public Affairs, U.S. Army North
After a simulated 10-kiloton nuclear detonation in a major Midwestern city, specialized teams of National Guards from Tennessee and Ohio began clearing routes and monitoring radiation in advance of federal response forces.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction – Civil Support Teams (WMD-CST) conducted assessments as part of Vibrant Response 13, a major incident exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North.
More than 9,000 service members and civilians took part in the exercise from July 25 to Aug. 13 at the unique disaster training area at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., and 10 other training areas and airfields in southern Indiana and northern Kentucky.
"We are here in support of a simulated nuclear detonation incident," Lt. Col. Jeff Brown, commander, 45th WMD-CST, said.
Adding, "We are assisting with clearing routes, containment and assisting victims."
The teams were established in the wake of 9/11 to deploy rapidly, assist local first responders in determining the precise nature of an incident, provide expert medical and technical advice and help pave the way for the identification and arrival of follow-on military support.
Civil Support Teams can assess chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.
"Their mission today entails a reconnaissance survey to determine levels of contamination," Derrick Johnson, Civil Support Readiness Group – East, Southeast Division, Civil Support Training Activity, Army North, said.
The 45th WMD-CST stood up in 2002.
"This unit is really adapted to survey and reconnaissance missions," Johnson said. "And, they interact with civilian personnel very well."
This is the first Vibrant Response exercise for the 22-man team from Smyrna, Tenn., but they have participated in several national-level exercises and have responded to real-world incidents.
"We had a Ricin incident, and we have responded to white powder incidents in addition to numerous stand-bys," Capt. Shawn Chance, survey team leader, 45th WMD-CST, said.
Ricin is a highly toxic, naturally occurring protein. A dose as small as a few grains of salt can kill an adult human.
The job is dangerous, but the team members said they welcomed the challenge.
"I look at it as it’s no different than a firefighter or any other first responder," Staff Sgt. Michael King, survey team chief, 45th WMD-CST, said. "Someone has to go in."
When responding to possible radiation, there are safeguards in place to protect the soldiers and airmen on the team from radiation exposure and acute radiation sickness, Maj. Donnie Allen, physician assistant, 45th WMD-CST, said.
Adding, "They have multiple monitoring devices, proper protective equipment and ‘turn-back’ criteria in place to protect them. Low levels of radiation exposure are very survivable."
After the specialized civil support teams cleared the routes and marked the "hot-zones," the Ohio National Guard CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package, part of the Region V Homeland Response Force, was able to enter the area to evacuate civilians from a collapsed parking garage, decontaminate and triage the ‘victims,’ played by civilian role-players in moulage, and to evacuate them to safety as quickly as possible.
The Vibrant Response field training exercise is scripted to follow what would really happen in case of an unthinkable incident like a small, ‘dirty’ nuclear bomb detonation in a major city.
"Initially, after a catastrophic incident, local and state responders will be the first ones on the ground," Capt. Kenneth Murray, observer/controller/trainer, Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, West Va. National Guard, said.
Adding, "Then, the civil support teams will assess the situation and the Homeland Response Force will be the first federalized unit that’s going to be on the ground to provide decontamination for the sick and injured and relief for the first responders."