DENVER — When a disaster involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents strikes, the state calls on Civil Support Teams for rescue.
This week, National Guard CSTs from six different states came together to hone their skills in order to be better prepared to come to the aid of their citizens.
“Our entire job is to protect them,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Keltz of the Colorado Guard’s 8th CST. Keltz added that her team is there to support the people of Colorado and ensure its citizens are safe.
From July 22-26, Keltz trained alongside Guard CST members from Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah during Vigilant Guard, a large-scale training exercise in the greater Denver and Colorado Springs areas that focused on preparing to respond to domestic emergencies and catastrophic events.
According to Maj. Rebecca Hoffman, Colorado Army National Guard Vigilant Guard project officer, the VG creators used realistic scenarios to better prepare these teams in light of actual recent events.
While Vigilant Guard exercises in other states have been centered around notional manmade disasters or terrorist activities, Colorado’s scenario focused on emergencies resulting from natural disasters.
“This Vigilant Guard seamed to focus more on natural disaster and not so much on the bad guy scenarios,” said Army Maj. Brad Christopher, commander of Idaho National Guard’s 101st CST. “This has made the CSTs really viable. We are partners to civil authorities and the states, and this gives us more work to do and gives us more credibility to what we do.”
CSTs are activated to take care of situations before they become worse, and the exercise scenarios allowed them to practice all of their capabilities as a unit.
“This has been … excellent, and it was really good for us to experience this,” Christopher said.
One scenario involved a train carrying toxic materials that was overturned by a tornado in Commerce City, Colo. CSTs were also dispatched to check radiation levels at a notional spill at Denver’s Pepsi Center, responded to victims affected by such toxic materials, and contained leaks to prevent further contamination.
From October 2011 through March 2012, CSTs across the country engaged in 51 incident responses and 685 assist missions, in addition to their regular exercises and training.
There are 57 CSTs in the U.S. its territories, with at least one in each state and in Washington, D.C. The units are on standby around-the-clock and are deployable within 90 minutes.
“The CSTs have the opportunity, ability and desire to come out and make a difference.” Christopher said.