News: State and federal agencies establish continuum of response and capabilities
Story by Staff Sgt. Melissa Bright
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Over the last several decades, the United States has developed an array of homeland defense measures aimed at ensuring the safety of our citizens from the forces of man as well as providing measures for recovery from incidents and accidents that arise from the forces of nature.
During the first week of January, members of state and local civilian and military emergency response agencies within Texas met with the United States Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force to develop a deeper understanding of capabilities and limits inherent to each group.
Members of the Texas National Guard Joint Task Force 71, recently certified to conduct the Homeland Response Force mission for FEMA Region VI, attended the conference along with the San Antonio Fire Department and Hazmat team, the Austin Fire Department and Hazmat team and the Texas Department of Emergency Management.
Day one of the two-day conference included face-to-face introductions and informational briefings; organizations discussed their respective histories, training events and real-world missions that highlighted the use of available state and local resources.
“These conferences allow us to be more knowledgeable of our partner agencies abilities,” said Army Lt. Col. Michael Rockwell of JTF-71, “in addition to developing relationships with one another as individuals. The CBIRF brought in a federal component this time. That familiarity will hopefully make the merging of our groups a more natural occurrence should we be called upon.”
The CBIRF representatives expressed similar sentiments after meeting with their Texas Guard counterparts.
"These are great for us because we learn what the capabilities are at the state level, the local level and also what that particular FEMA office has to offer,” said Marine Col. Peter Ahern, commanding officer for CBIRF. “At the federal level, we have found when a group comes out to describe what we do and how we do it, show where we can integrate with the local incident commanders, the level of understanding is much deeper.”
The USMC CBIRF, headquartered in Indianhead, Md., has a primary mission of countering the effects of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive incident, mirroring the state mission of the 6th CBRN Task Force and 6th Civil Support Team of JTF-71.
One of the most significant distinction between the two resources is how when directed, a CBIRF unit will forward-deploy to assist not just local, state, or federal agencies, but also the Unified Combat Commanders in locations outside the U.S. in the conduct of consequence management operations.
“We are not only a domestic force," said Ahern, "we also have an international mission where we support the geographic combat commanders. We did that for the first time this past spring when we supported Pacific Command and U.S. forces in Japan in response to the Japanese tsunami and the nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima."
The following day, those assembled participated in a tabletop exercise simulating a tornado impacting the city of San Antonio with compounding issues with an end result of improving coordinated response measures, streamlining processes and reducing duplicate efforts among the many groups.
The exercise simulations included a large scale destruction zone partially contaminated with radioactive material and a leaking tanker truck, a need for immediate life saving effort in that contaminated environment and a coordinated wide area search and rescue in uncontaminated environments.
“From start to finish” said Cpt. Robert Kirkpatrick, logistics officer for the 6th CERFP, “we identified opportunities to improve coordination, communication and expectations within our organizations.”
“The [exercise] was a unique opportunity for us,” Maj. Mikel Sledge, 6th CERFP Operations Officer, “to train not only with our state agencies and partners, but training with the CBIRF helped to better educate us on what their capabilities are in the event they are required to respond to a disaster in our region."