News: Civil Support Teams, first responders team up for multi-agency training
Story by Sgt. Lauren Twigg
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Arizona National Guard 91st Civil Support Team participated in a multi-agency exercise hosted by the Center for National Response here, Sept. 26 – 30.
For one week, the 91st CST teamed up with other agencies from across the state and nation, as well as other CSTs from other states, to conduct one of the largest CST training events in Arizona.
“This is a collaborative hazardous material multi-CST exercise and gives us a chance to all work together with first responders and other CSTs,” said Capt. Ryan Morrissey, the medical operations officer of the 91st CST. “We only get a chance to do this once or twice a year so it’s always a great opportunity when we have these events.”
At the Fort Tuthill, Luke Air Force Base Recreation Area and the Coconino County Fairgrounds about 7 miles south of Flagstaff, the practical exercise began with local first responders reacting to a call regarding some suspicious activity involving unusual odors coming from a few of the cabins.
“The local fire department responded to the call and the citizens who called 911 were transported to a local hospital for medical treatment from reactions to the odors,” said Staff Sgt. Keith Hapenney, a survey team chief with the 9th CST from the California National Guard. “At this point, fire department has determined that they cannot support this safely and require more assistance, so the CSTs are called in.”
Once the command center for the CSTs is set, observers from state and federal agencies survey how the operations are conducted while members from the CNR maintain the training operations.
“We don’t just sit and watch – it’s always good to have an extra set of eyes on someone in a suit,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Villalobos, an exercise observer. “It’s easy to become complacent while wearing all of that equipment. During an after action review, the observers give guidance to the CST members regarding what could have been done differently, and provide suggested improvements.”
Villalobos is an administrative non-commissioned officer and decontamination team chief for the 85th CST from the Utah National Guard.
Since this training is a rare moment for all of these agencies to be able to work together, the team members and leaders take advantage of the opportunity to observe each other as they execute their procedures and protocols.
“This training gives us a chance to co-mingle with other CSTs,” said Tech. Sgt. Patrick Conway, a survey team chief with the 91st CST. “We get to know the other CSTs and their members and see how other teams operate with their equipment availability. This is also a great opportunity for trainees to gain more experience.”
The types of equipment used help CST survey team members detect hazardous materials that may not be seen with the naked eye. Also exercised is a communication system that goes beyond just using a radio.
“We use still and video images that can transmit a live feed to the command center,” Conway said. “This way, pictures and video can be reviewed right away and if there is something a surveyor may not be able to see with his suit on, someone from command looking at the images will see it and radio it to the surveyor instantaneously.”
Since 2010, the 91st CST has conducted 27 training exercises with local, state, regional, and federal response agencies. The 91st CST has also participated in nine standby missions for large scale pre-planned events including Super Bowl XLII, 2011 Major League Baseball All Star Game, and the annual Luke Air Force Base Air Show.
“This training is imperative to ensure mission-readiness,” Morrissey said. “The training is great, this scenario was really good, and I give kudos to all the agencies that came out today to help organize and make this happen.”