News: Austin Civil Support Team prepares, trains with Texas Agencies
Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego
KILLEEN, Texas -- "The exercise started on Fort Hood this morning," said Walker M. Veal, Chief of the Killeen Independent School District Police Department. "After the stuff that's going on throughout our nation, I feel like that's the only way to go."
As our military continues to fight conflicts on two fronts, our domestic forces must also prepare for multiple engagements stateside. Central Texas, home to Fort Hood, Killeen, Harker Heights and Austin, spent three days engaging four separate incidents intended to stress, test and perfect our local and state assets.
Operation Phantom Vigilance, conducted from May 12th through the 15th, challenged the region with concurrent simulations of a train derailment, two installation explosions, and an undetonated vehicle born improvised explosive device. With such a massive spectrum of emergencies spanning across more than 30 miles of Texas, no single department could handle the full scope of operations.
"It tested all of our resources, all of our communications with other agencies," said Chad Berg, Emergency Management Coordinator with the Killeen Fire Department. "It really assisted us in making some changes and supporting some of the changes that we'd already noticed but needed the documentation to back up."
Berg, who's brought together independent departments before, understands the importance of cooperation and shared response plans.
"Because our resources were tapped," he said, "when we came up with the VBIED, we had no resources to be able call out on that and because of the nature of that, the need for bringing in the 6th CST was very valuable to us."
The 6th CST, or Civil Support Team, is an Austin-based, joint Texas National Guard unit that specializes in hazardous materials (HAZMAT) detection and their disposal. Brought into the operation specifically to engage the VBIED, their assets suited the challenge at hand.
"Our team is specifically designed for this kind of event," said Army Lt. Col. Jet Hays, commander for the 6th CST. "We are a weapons of mass destruction support team. We have a lot of high tech chemical detectors and radiation detectors that your normal HAZMAT team does not have."
With Fort Hood teams containing the installation explosions and Killeen departments managing the train derailment, the 6th CST was the perfect choice to assist in the fourth incident of the exercise.
"Once you have something where you have two or three HAZMAT teams deployed," said Hays, "they're out of resources so they have to go to regional. We are the state's HAZMAT team."
Unique in both structure and mission, the CST consists of 22 full-time personnel on 24-hour alert to serve as first responders in support of an emergency chemical incident. Never the primary points of contact, these trained professionals instead support the on-site department and augment the already established objectives.
Always on duty, the CST supported the Austin Fire Department on the day before Operation Phantom Vigilance in a chemical identification episode, resulting in the safe containment of a decades-old toxin.
"It was some glass ampoules that turned out to be a live chemical agent," said Hays. "It was used as a tampering device for a safe back in the 30s."
The safe, found by the son of its previous owner, contained the agent as a safeguard against intrusion and required the advanced equipment of the CST for proper identification.
For Operation Phantom Vigilance, communication was instrumental in the overall success of the simulations.
"Talking with 6th CST prior to the exercise was a positive coming into the day," said Berg. "We already had the understanding of what their expectations were."
"Doing all of this always makes it worth while," said Army Capt. Steve Schippers, operations officer for the 6th CST. "Every time we go out, we're meeting new people, interacting with different agencies, this time it was police, a lot of times it's fire."
Chief Veal, who served as the incident commander for the VBIED, welcomed the specialized support of the CST.
"We've all got to work together," he said. "None of us can do it by ourselves."