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By Capt. Edwin Nieves
District of Columbia National Guard
Soldiers and airmen of the District of Columbia National Guard 33rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team along with other CST’s from Texas, North Carolina, West Virginia, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia’s Fire and Emergency Management Service, trained in emergency response scenarios at Ft. Buchanan and the municipality of Carolina in Puerto Rico.
Training scenarios the teams participated in were for emergency response due to a chemical, biological, and radiological incident that exposed possible harmful chemicals into the air and to land and water assets in the surrounding community. In the scenarios, the CST in conjunction with the local emergency response teams arrived to the zone of possible contamination, began procedures of evaluation, testing and securing of surrounding structures and affected areas. Additional specialized teams also responded to the scene to secure the contamination and provide additional expert emergency response support as needed.
Having the ability to train with federal and civil partners on a consistent basis and in different locations across the country ensures that the CST is ready for all types of emergencies, environmental conditions and geographical challenges.
“The 33rd WMD-CST is always looking for innovative training opportunities. Being able to deploy our assets to Puerto Rico and invite our partners from D.C. Fire and EMS’ Special Operations Battalion is vital for our continued collaboration. Together we ensure that both organizations are more familiar with each other’s operating procedures and working with other federal and local agencies will allow us to continue to learn and implement new tactics and tools that may better support our combined mission. Because of joint training opportunities like this one, the District of Columbia and its residence should feel confident that the D.C. National Guard and D.C. Fire and EMS are prepared for special security situations,” said Capt. Keith Hapenney, acting 33rd WMD-CST commander.
The District of Columbia’s WMD-CST is a key element of the Department of Defense’s overall program to provide support to civil authorities in the event of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction in the United States. This team is able to deploy rapidly, respond to an incident within 90 minutes and assist local first-responders in determining the nature of a weapon of mass destruction or chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive incidents. The CST also provides medical and technical advice, and paves the way for the identification and arrival of follow-on state and federal response assets.
“We rely on the D.C. National Guard’s 33rd CST as a force multiplier for large scale incidents and work with them directly for national security events as well as special events that reach specific levels within the city. They work with us hand in hand on rapid intervention and joint hazard assessments,” said District of Columbia Fire and EMS Special Operations Battalion Fire Chief, Thomas Chenworth.
“This exercise in Puerto Rico gives us a better understanding of their (CST) capabilities, also the procedures and policies that are in place before they come out to assist us. We also look to the CST for more technical expertise that we do not necessarily have available in our agency such as their mobile equipment, laboratories, and special communication devices. This training has allowed us to see all of those elements in use and allowed us hands-on experience since we functioned as incident commander for the first exercise.”
The weeklong training exercise culminated with all participants meeting for an after action report and discussing what they experienced during the scenarios, adequately accomplished as tasks and identified those that may need to be more fine-tuned.
1st Lt. Emmanuel Ponce, 33rd CST Medical Operations Officer, organized, planned and coordinated the entire exercise with the Puerto Rico National Guard’s 22nd CST. “Working side by side with the local and federal partners is vital for our mission. This exercise proved that it doesn’t matter where an incident may occur or what language the residents may speak, the CST will always be ready to respond and assist,” said Ponce.