Tuesday, July 30, 2013
California Army National Guard News: Determined Defense training exercise provides testing ground for first responders and military.
Determined Defense provides testing ground for first responders
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two Soldiers in full hazardous material gear tread carefully through a deserted parking lot under the baking afternoon sun. Their objective – a damaged metal pipe ominously leaking liquid on the scorching asphalt. Nearby, a canister responsible for the damage continues to ooze wisps of smoke. As for the liquid, it was identified by earlier reconnaissance as hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic substance that burns - or even kills - upon contact with the skin.
Fortunately for all parties involved, this was a simulated emergency. The canister was only a simulated bomb powered by an air compressor. The “hydrofluoric acid” was in actuality harmless water. This was just one small part of the first day of Determined Defense, a massive two-day training exercise involving the 95th Civil Support Team, California National Guard and six civilian first responder agencies at the Intel Campus and Aerojet site in Folsom, Calif., July 17, 2013.
“When we have an exercise of this magnitude, it is important we involve the National Guard, so we can understand their capabilities, how they can support our mission and how we can support theirs,” said Lt. Dirk Regan from the Folsom Police Department. "We’re very grateful to be participating in this.”
The 22-person 95th CST arrived at the scene less than 90 minutes after the first explosions by CH-47 Chinook helicopter and deployed to the staging area to coordinate their containment efforts. Though highly trained to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear high-yield explosive [CBRNE] situations, the 95th is also well-versed in the medical aspects of a situation like Determined Defense.
“We have a physician assistant who is organic to our team,” said Capt. Nathan Serena, the operations officer of the 95th. “We also have a medic… EMTs [emergency medical technicians] as well as CLSs [combat lifesavers],” we have a very robust medical capability.”
The CST Soldiers train to be as flexible as possible, and able to function under a wide variety of conditions.
“We assess into the unit through a board process, and once approved we go through the rigorous training to become good at our specialties,” said Serena. “Like firefighters, we can do any job [within the team], but also have a more specific role for each member of the team.”
“What we try to do is assist the first responders to know what we do so that we can best assist them in completing the mission,” said Serena.
Determined Defense simulated a real-life emergency as closely as possible. The Intel employees and civilian media were notified in advance of the exercise, not only to avoid causing alarm, but to foster increased confidence in the abilities of first responders to handle a large-scale disaster.
“We’re hopeful that the public will feel safer in their community because we’re working with our allied agencies and putting forth the effort to create better understanding and interoperability with the folks who are likely to respond to an event of this magnitude,” Regan said. “We hope we never have to respond to this level, but we want [the public] to know that we are prepared.”
Much like a field medic assessing the tools needed to care for his patients; first responders allocate available resources and outside agencies dependent upon the size and severity of the situation.
"We would be the first, along with the fire department, to respond to the scene, because it is our jurisdiction," said Regan. “Once our initial officers had responded to the scene and identified the threat, the level of the threat, one that is of the magnitude of today’s exercise, would put us into the position to have to call for outside resources, in this case, the National Guard.
The mission took nearly a year of planning and coordination between the involved agencies and Intel, growing from a routine exercise into a huge operation encompassing every aspect of a real-life emergency.
“There’s a number of components involved, including the arrest of suspects, medical care for people that are [harmed] from the detonation and biological hazard, and a number of other concerns as far as the impact on the community… and other risks that come into play as the exercise progresses,” Regan said.
“This got a lot bigger than we thought,” said Stephanie M. Anderson, the Intel security manager at the Folsom Campus. “It morphed into something that benefitted everyone.”
The exercise did not go perfectly, but it was not expected to. Mistakes and areas needing improvement were identified, so as to not be repeated in the event of a real emergency.
“If there are any identified weaknesses or inoperability we identify as a result of this exercise, we are in a position to improve upon those for the future,” Regan said.
The California State Military Reserve [CSMR] provided five role players to simulate the terrorist suspects arrested during Determined Defense.
“As roleplayers here, most of us have a background in this type of work,” said Col. David Garcia from the CSMR. “[We know] what the expectations, what could possibly happen, and what the response should be. We bring a lot of experience to the exercise.”
The CSMR is an all-volunteer organization of qualified men and women who not only provide training support to the California National Guard, but personnel and expertise in times of emergency. Many CSMR members are trained law enforcement or medical professionals who are able to act as liaisons at the site of the emergency.
“We get real contact with these agencies, the people who are going to respond,” said Garcia. “We know who to talk to, it really helps with communication.”
To get the most out of the training, the simulated weapons and hazards needed to be as accurate to the real deal as possible, requiring careful work and attention to detail by members of the California Emergency Management Agency [CalEMA] Hazardous Materials Training Section.
“This is a great opportunity to partner with our state and Federal emergency responders,” said Jacob Volkov from the CalEMA. “The feeling of watching them respond to an event is outstanding.”
As the final after action reviews were conducted and everyone broke down their work sites to return home for the day, each agency involved was better prepared for mission success against a real-life threat.
“The Intel facility here is a great venue for training, and a great venue to integrate with the other agencies,” said Serena. “It’s a great opportunity to interact and get our equipment out and practice.
****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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