News: Guard team tests its ability to save lives after disaster in Florida
Story by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Nearly 200 members of the Florida National Guard participated in a unique exercise and evaluation in North Florida recently, testing their ability to support civilian authorities if a major disaster struck Florida.
Soldiers and Airmen of the Guard's CERF-P (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force - Package) conducted the exercise at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center near Starke, Fla., Feb. 28. Under scrutiny of evaluators, the Guard members worked through a scenario simulating a large scale explosion with injured civilians trapped in collapsed and damaged buildings. The CERF-P tested its abilities to provide search and extraction, medical triage and chemical decontamination, working with role-players acting as injured civilians.
The Florida National Guard CERF-P team – one of 12 validated regional teams – is designed to augment first response agencies in incidents potentially involving hostile use of chemical, biological or radiological agents.
CERF-P Commander Maj. Michael Ladd explained that his team was tested on more than 540 tasks during the evaluation, and was a chance to prove its abilities to respond quickly and professionally if a major disaster or terrorist incident occurred.
"We want to show the nation, the region and most importantly the citizens of the state of Florida that we have the capability and are up to par with any other CERF-P in the country," Ladd said. "We have the capability that will save lives of Floridians, folks in our [Federal Emergency Management Agency] region and nationally."
The team is comprised of members of the Florida Air National Guard's 202nd RED HORSE (Engineering) Squadron, 125th Fighter Wing's Medical Squadron and Florida Army National Guard's 927th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
Ladd noted that roughly six hours after being notified of an incident, the CERF-P team could be ready to augment emergency first responders.
"We fit in right after the first responders ... working with them to help make sure we mitigate any contaminants on site, provide that decontamination, provide that extraction and medical triage," Ladd said.
At the start of the exercise Airmen from the 202nd RED HORSE began rescue operations in a large rubble pile simulating a collapsed building, searching for "victims" as they crawled through tight spaces and down steep shafts.
"What this challenges my team to do is go in and do the technical search and extraction," Ladd explained, pointing to the rubble pile where the Airmen were working.
"Particularly, this obstacle is a high-angle extraction which would simulate an elevator shaft or some sort of vertical obstacle where we've got folks who need help in the bottom. It is a very critical task and gives our Airmen and Soldiers just another tool they can leverage."
After the Airmen brought the victims safely out of the pile, the next step was to take them to a medical triage and a decontamination line for anyone exposed to chemicals. If the scenario had been real, the victims would then be moved as quickly as possible to civilian hospitals.
According to Ladd, the entire CERF-P is made up of volunteers.
"What we've asked – and what the National Guard Bureau and the states around the nation have asked – the Soldiers and Airmen to do is once again answer the call to be that 'Minuteman,'" he said. "And with a sort-of volunteer firefighter mentality these Soldiers and Airmen volunteer for about 14 extra days of training per year."
"Routinely they train hard to make sure they can save the lives of American people," Ladd added.