Idaho National Guard's 101st Civil Support Team prepares for upcoming evaluation
By 2nd Lt. Crystal Farris November 21, 2017
BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho National Guard's 101st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team responded to a hazardous material incident on Gowen Field, Oct. 26. Team members readied their equipment, donned their protective gear and gathered for a mission brief.
The alert was part of an internal exercise to prepare the unit for an upcoming collective task evaluation in May. The evaluation, which has taken place every 18 months since the unit was first certified in 2002, ensures its ability to react to any type of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident.
To prepare for their evaluation, the unit conducts year-round training averaging one large-scale exercise per month that focuses on hazardous material response. This exercise helped team members cross-level their knowledge, train new personnel and practice new techniques after several weeks of classroom instruction.
"We keep improving and changing our processes as we go," said 1st Lt. Aaron Decker, survey team leader. "I think we've been successful because we hire really smart people who catch on quickly and we are able to keep some key people around with that institutional knowledge."
The exercise also gave leadership the ability to evaluate the team's performance and correct any areas that would otherwise cause it to receive a no-go during their evaluation.
"We have some new survey team members, so we do this to expose them to real missions they may come across," said Sgt. 1st Class Marshall Cook, survey team sergeant. "It also gives us the opportunity to help them train on and grow in areas they are weak in."
After receiving a mission brief, the entry team members went into the hazardous zone, or hot zone. Their job was to communicate back to personnel in the safe zone, or cold zone, everything that they observed.
As part of Idaho's emergency response structure, the 101st CST works almost entirely in support of civilian agencies, such as regional hazardous response teams and other state and federal responders. Since the CST is a unit specialized in weapons of mass destruction, these agencies call upon the unit for assistance if the situation exhausts their own resources or goes beyond their capabilities.
In this exercise, the CST simulated receiving a request for assistance from state law enforcement to identify the contents of unknown substances found at a crime scene. With its specialized detection and identification equipment, the CST can provide real-time answers about such unknown substances.
Capt. Eugene Luze, the medical operations officer and acting commander for the exercise, briefed the team on the training scenario and disseminated intelligence collected by other responders.
"Local law enforcement conducted a raid on a suspected terrorist cell known for making bombs," said Luze. "During the raid several bomb making materials were found and odors present, causing officers to be transported to the hospital for observation."
After receiving the situation brief, Decker ensured his survey team understood its specific mission objectives before entering the hot zone.
"We are making entry to confirm or deny the presence of vapor hazards and help advise the FBI on what personal protective equipment measures and requirements to take for following entries," said Decker. "We have also been instructed to collect intelligence and specifically identify unknown hazards."
The entry team's objectives were to conduct an exterior 360 degree sweep of the building, conduct a reconnaissance of the first floor, perform detailed site characterization of all areas of interest, rule out radiological hazards, report all chemical readings and field screen and analyze pertinent samples for identification purposes.
THE HOT ZONE
Members of the survey entry team zipped up their protective suites, turned on their air tanks, jumped into their vehicle and drove to the hot zone.
Once in the hot zone, they entered a building where they discovered two laboratory set ups, one with an unknown liquid substance and another with a biological substance. They were instructed to take and package samples of both for analysis in the cold zone.
The sampling procedures gave a couple of the team's newest members the opportunity to train on good techniques and communication practices while performing in two- to three-man entry teams.
"The more we train the better we are," said Staff Sgt. Denay Rogers, a survey team member on the CST since March. "Every time you go into the hot zone, you learn something new, how to operate better and be more proficient so you're not there longer then you need to be."
After the samples were collected, one of the entry team members was instructed to simulate a man-down drill, or injury. During a man-down drill, an entry back-up team is called upon to retrieve the injured individual.
BACK IN THE COLD ZONE
After hearing "man-down" called over the radio, the personnel in charge of emergency decontamination donned their protective suits and prepared to receive the injured person for decontamination.
The decontamination team members are responsible for setting up the proper equipment needed to clean any possible contaminants from personnel who traveled into the hot zone. The exercise gave them the opportunity to practice a new procedure called the wipe-spray-wipe method.
"This was our first time using this method," said Maj. Shawn Allen, physician assistant. "We also had the largest member of our team as the man down, so that made for a difficult transfer of patients, but I think the new process is good and a lot quicker and less labor intensive."
The method requires the decontamination team to wipe the area of the personal protective suit it intends to cut, then spray that area with a special solution and wipe the area again for any remaining contaminates.
"What the method does is mitigate the time the person is in suit," said Staff Sgt. Esteban Gonzales, administrative sergeant. "Rather than trying to clean the entire suit, we focus on where we have to touch to get the person out, versus before when we would throw buckets of water and decontaminate the entire suit."
The team made an incision in the suit after wiping it clean and pulled the individual out. Once the survey team member was safely out of his suit, he reentered the cold zone and prepared to receive any necessary medical attention.
BEYOND THE ENTRY
Once the survey entry team returns to the cold zone, it typically hands off any collected samples to the analytic laboratory system's operator, Maj. Jeremy Mclean.
"The purpose of getting samples to analyze is to get an answer to the incident commander so he can make a decision based on what we find on scene," said Mclean, nuclear medical science officer. "We are going to try and come up with some answers on what the sample is so the local incident commander can make a decision on public safety, life safety and property."
Mclean is responsible for receiving samples collected by the survey team and then analyzing them to determine what they are. The lab, comprised of advanced analytic equipment, is the only mobile laboratory in Idaho certified by the International Organization for Standardization.
This standard demonstrates that the laboratory is technically competent and able to produce precise and accurate tests and data calibration. With the ability to provide answers about unknown substances within hours instead of days, the laboratory is one of the unit's most unique tools available in a hazardous material environment.
Although Mclean did not receive any samples during this exercise, it gave him the opportunity to conduct internal calibrations of the unit's equipment, in addition to cross-training with the other laboratory operator.
"When you are such a small team and there is so much to do, you have to cross-train," said McLean. "You have to be able to do more than one function and make yourself valuable. The operation tempo on the CST is very high and so much time is spent on training."
The team intends on continuing a strict training regimen in preparation for the evaluation in May, with plans on conducting integrated training this winter with some external local state responders. The integrated training will give the team a situation more similar to what they will experience both during the evaluation and in the case of a real-world incident.
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