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PHOTO GALLERY: Catastrophic response exercise held in Washoe County


By Vega

A plane has just taken off from the local airport. The tower receives a call from the pilots about a mechanical failure. The plane clips a local high-rise building, losing a wing, causing the plane to crash into a local train yard. The explosion tears open several cars transporting dangerous radioactive or chemical substances.

First responders in the community arrive promptly. The scene is overwhelming and the local emergency response needs immediate assistance. Not only are there multiple casualties but the unknown substance needs identifying before emergency responders can continue their rescue operation.

To the rescue comes the Nevada Guard 92nd Civil Support Team. The CST-22 member team consists of fulltime airmen and soldiers specifically trained to assist first responders in identifying chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear materials. There are currently 57 full-time federally funded CSTs across the nation.

The teams assist local emergency responders not only in identifying potentially dangerous substances but also in offering specialized support and advisement on the safest way to proceed in the rescue efforts. The CST operates under a civilian commander in whatever capacity they are able.

This includes a mobile field team, a mobile lab for identification of hazardous materials and a containment team that can mark potentially dangerous territory at a catastrophic emergency site.

On Friday, July 11, the team held exercises with local the National Guard CERFP at the Washoe County Emergency Operations Center in Reno. CERFP stands for (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) Enhanced Response Force Package. CERFP is 170-man team trained in large-scale catastrophe rescue, decontamination and evacuation. The CERFP mission is to provide triage and prepare victims for transport away from a hazardous site.

CST work in conjunction with CERFP, Washoe County Emergency Management and other first responders. This integration allows agencies to practice working together in preparation for the real thing. One outcome of the exercise helps the civilian and military agencies develop a common vocabulary for dealing with a disaster of this caliber.

“If the real thing happens, they will be well equipped and prepared,” Capt. Brett Eklund of the Army National Guard said Friday.

Christopher Vega
Christopher Vega
Christopher Vega, born in Madison, Tenn., is married, father of three boys and a late bloomer to education. He has 15 years of experience working with disadvantaged youth and is completing two degrees in Journalism and Art.