News: Guard, local first responders rehearse for terror and disaster during Exercise BAYEX
Story by Spc. Douglas Saunders
FAIRFIELD, Calif. – When disaster strikes, the citizens of California look to first responders to jump into action, save lives and maintain order. One component of these responders is the California National Guard’s 95th Civil Support Team based in Hayward.
The CST is a highly-trained, specialized unit prepared to counter and respond to chemical/biological terrorist threats. The CST trained with the Federal Bureau of Investigations Special Weapons and Tactics team from the San Francisco office as well as with local authorities from different police and fire agencies in the Bay Area during a recent multi-agency exercise called BAYEX 2011. The exercise was comprised of a series of training scenarios that allowed inter-agency emergency crews to rehearse together in preparation for a possible disaster situation. BAYEX was conducted at various locations on April 8-12 to test first responders and the CST’s ability to work in unison like a well-oiled machine.
“We continuously train to improve our response behaviors in order to be unrivaled in our vigilance to react to several different possible disasters, natural or otherwise, throughout northern California,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Zac Delwiche, commanding officer, CST.
The first day of the exercise was held at Reserve Forces Training Area, Camp Parks in Dublin, where local and federal authorities were called to react to a suspicious package that was sent to a wrong address.
The scenario had investigators trace the package back to a group of domestic terrorists, played by volunteer role-players, planning a biological attack.
The S.W.A.T. team swarmed in to apprehend the terrorists and in the process may have been affected by the make-believe biological weapon which led to the next phase of the disaster training, and where the CST expertise came into play.
The CST’s Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear team, donning their space-like hazardous material suits, and their medical team, were on standby to decontaminate victims of exposure to weapons of mass destruction and provide medical assistance to the wounded.
“The CST is a unique unit that you’re not going to find anywhere else in the Guard,” said Staff Sgt. Dane R. Hagan, entry team member. “It feels great to be part of something that’s so prevalent right here on the home front and has an active every day role.”
The exercise switched scenarios a few days later by creating an incident involving a Bay Area Rapid Transit train in the Oakland BART maintenance yard.
Six individuals carrying suitcases filled with mock RICIN nerve agents got on the train, and as the daily commuters boarded, the terrorists got off the train and left the deadly chemical behind.
“Mass population and transit in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the many reasons we as a team need to consistently train and be prepared for any disaster,” said Delwiche.
The scenario had the suitcases with dispersal devices built in to spray the simulated nerve agent all over the passengers and train cars.
“We have to be able to breathe and work in suits that protect us from biological, chemical and nuclear threats so we all need to be in tip top shape,” said Sgt. 1st Class Laura E. Miller, operations non-commissioned officer.
Adding to the realism to provide the best possible training, the BART Police responded to the incident and discovered the suitcases on the train. They contained the incident until fire rescue personnel arrived to take over. Oakland and Alameda Fire Departments arrived on the scene and figured out the best way to handle the incident. Patients were evacuated, decontaminated and sent to a triage area to be evaluated then transported to several local area hospitals for treatment. After the patients were all transferred to medical facilities, the 95th CST, along with the 85th CST out of Salt Lake City, Utah, analyzed which nerve agent was inflicted on citizens.
“In order for us to be any good to the citizens of California we need to train to life-like scenarios,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron W. Zuniga, medical NCO.
The CST is a distinctive element comprised entirely of a team that is on call 24-7 and is non-deployable to foreign countries.
“The men and women of the CST train every day,” said Delwiche. “This is their full-time job and they do it exceptionally well.”
“The best part is knowing that I’m securing the safety of my family and everyone here in northern California. People can look to us to solve problems when something does occur here,” said Hagan.
Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Harding, an observer controller for BAYEX 2011, was enthusiastic about the cooperation among the different agencies during the training event. “All of the different agencies worked extremely well together.”
“If a disaster occurred and I needed a group of people to take action, I would want this team of men and women to be that group,” said Miller. “The professionalism and outstanding character of this team is above any that I have worked with in my military career.”
This work, Guard, local first responders rehearse for terror and disaster during Exercise BAYEX, by PFC Douglas Saunders, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.