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By Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson
133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Though scientists can’t predict when the next major movement of either fault line will occur, the National Guard Bureau is prepared to respond with highly trained and specialized units known as Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-Yield Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP).
NGB strategically placed these CERFP teams in each of the 10 FEMA regions throughout the U.S., and June 7-9, members of the Oregon and Kentucky National Guard CERFP, along with the Utah Homeland Response Force (HRF) and aviation assets from the Idaho National Guard, exercised their abilities to respond to a simulated 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the aftermath of a tsunami during Cascadia Rising 2016.
“A natural disaster is going to make a lot of chemical messes,” said Army Guard Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Harmon, a CBRNE specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 103rd Chemical Battalion and Logistics Chief for KY-CERFP. “That’s where we are going to be our best because of our additional resources.
Harmon described the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the prime example. Stagnate water filled with bodies, chemicals from industrial buildings and fuel from local gas stations, rescuers were faced with a HAZMAT situation.
“You don’t want to be wading through that without the type of equipment we have,” he said. “We can do search and rescue, but the difference is we can do it in an area that was next to a chemical or nuclear environment, put on our suits and provide decontamination of people and property and do it efficiently.”
Kentucky National Guardsmen assigned to the Burlington, Kentucky-based 103rd Chemical Battalion and the 123rd Airlift Wing make up the KY-CERFP team. The Soldiers and Airmen undergo hundreds of hours of additional certifications that are maintained on a yearly basis in order to provide command and control (C2), search, extraction and rescue, fatality search and recovery, decontamination and medical care to evacuees of a disaster situation.
Their augmentation to the Oregon National Guard tested the KY-CERFP’s ability to mobilize and deploy into a disaster area, set up a working footprint and provide relief efforts with search and rescue, decontamination zones and field hospitals.
According to FEMA.gov, the coordination and integration of governments at all levels, including cities, counties, state, federal and military with combined support of non-government agencies, is crucial to the life-saving and life-sustaining response operations. One of the primary goals of the FEMA Region 10 exercise was to train and test a “whole community approach.”
Harmon said KY-CERFP follows the FEMA and National Incident Management System (NIMS) program so that all agencies involved speak the same language. NIMS recommends Standard Operating Guides for scenarios, but each CERFP tailors its setup to its needs.
“Being NIMS compliant makes it easier to relate to our NGO and civilian counterparts,” he said. “This mission is fluid, so we can take best practices from another Guard unit or fire department and integrate those into ours and just get better as a result.”
Harmon said that little things that save time make all the difference in the world when the CERFP is activated. Something as simple as running two 5-gallon gas cans across hundreds of meters will tire a Soldier quickly. Oregon created a fuel cart that allows a Soldier to quickly and efficiently refuel generators in an easy fashion. Harmon said he hopes to adopt that and administrative tracking documents to help his logistics section run more efficiently.
According to Air Guard Master Sgt. Nikki Nazworth, the medical liaison officer (LNO) for KY-CERFP, exercising with other regions provides the Kentucky team with the ability to network with others before a disaster strikes.
“We’ve worked together for five years,” she said of the KY-CERFP, “and became purple very quickly.”
The purple that Nazworth describes is the joint-effort between Army and Air Guard units and their civilian counterparts.
“It’s good to work with other states’ teams because we know our FEMA reps, our local police and fire chiefs. But up here, where we could be, we don’t,” she said. “It’s good to make those contacts, so that we aren’t just meeting for the first time during a real-time situation.”
Cascadia Rising 2016 is the largest emergency preparedness drill in the Pacific Northwest. More than 20,000 people at the local, state and federal levels participated, according to FEMA.
For Oregon Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Justin Rogers, a DECON LNO and small-arms maintenance operator assigned to the 3670th Maintenance Company, creating partnerships with Kentucky is just one aspect of the value of Cascadia Rising.
“If we actually have something like this happen, Oregon is not going to be 100 percent,” said Rogers, clarifying Oregon’s Citizen-Soldiers will also be impacted on a very personal level.
“With us being here, where we know our friends and our family are, everyone here will burn themselves down,” he said. “We can’t do it by ourselves. We need units like Kentucky, that can come in from places that are not like a third world, and come help us sustain our operations.”
The exercise in mission sustainment and transfer of authority is something that Hatfield said was important for the KY-CERFP to experience.
“What we wanted to do was learn from the Oregon-CERFP to see how they operate,” said Army Guard Lt. Col. Bill Hatfield, KY-CERFP and 103rd Chemical Battalion commander. “We also wanted them to take away from our practices, and I think we’ve done exactly that.
“We are always evolving,” he said. “When we train with other units or other states and task force, we are constantly evolving our techniques, tactics and procedures.”
Hatfield said that besides the training scenarios and injects of the exercise, his Soldiers and Airmen received additional training from civilian and federal personnel that they wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere.
“My medics trained with the Mobile Medical Response Team (MMRT) and got awesome training that is going to help them not only in their CERFP mission, but also on the battlefield. And I’m going to integrate more of the C2 practices of Oregon into my TOC (tactical operations center), and DECON learned a lot from their teams that we will go back and try,” Hatfield said.
“Whether it is the New Madrid Fault or a tornado in West Liberty, or any other disaster,” Hatfield said, “We are a phone call away from help.
“We are out here to help the Commonwealth of Kentucky, to save lives and help mitigate the suffering and work to rectify environmental damages,” he said.
For more information about the CSZ, visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/data/crust/cascadia.php
For more information about the NMSZ, visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/nmsz/