HAZMAT responders combine efforts to detect and protect
By: Capt. Joe Legros
Michigan National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 51st Civil Support Team, wearing HAZMAT suits, investigate the scene of a simulated chemical attack at Kalamazoo County Fairgrounds April 30, 2019, as part of Northern Exposure 2019. NE 19 is a simulated nuclear detonation exercise which will provide realistic training to prepare MING units to integrate with civilian partners and respond to natural or man-made catastrophic events. (Photo Credit: Spc. Alan Prince)
KALAMAZOO, Mich. - During exercise Northern Exposure, the 51st Civil Support Team and the 460th Chemical Company of the Michigan Army National Guard combined efforts with local and county responders to identify simulated hazardous materials.
Northern Exposure is a simulated nuclear detonation exercise which provides rigorous and realistic training to prepare Michigan National Guard units to integrate with civilian partners and respond to catastrophic events. The training involves 10 different Army and Air Guard units, combining efforts with 16 state, county, and local HAZMAT agencies. Forged within this strong partnership, Michigan HAZMAT leadership enhances its emergency preparedness and strengthens the protection of citizens.
While nothing was actually detonated, Army and Air National Guardsmen from the CST and Soldiers from the 460th conducted mounted and dismounted reconnaissance on April 30, 2019, in order to identify multiple simulated hazardous threats. The materials represent the fallout from an "exercise-only" nuclear blast at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center specifically designed to enhance the efforts of emergency personnel. The combined effort ensures the hazards are found, identified and mitigated.
"The mission of the CST is to support civil authorities during any instances of terrorism, specifically when weapons of mass destruction are used," said Lt. Col. Kelly Wade Black, the Deputy Commander of the CST. "We are the eyes and ears for local, county and state authorities when it comes to determining any ongoing dangers of a HAZMAT incident."
In today's scenario, local HAZMAT firefighters were first on the scene and immediately suspected hazardous materials. They called the CST and 460th to investigate further.
Mounted Soldiers searched for materials from inside nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles, or NBCRVs, where they would be completely protected from potential hazards; while other dismounted Soldiers donned protective self-contained breathing apparatuses, or SCBAs, and meticulously searched the area on foot. This dual effort ensures complete coverage of the investigated area known as the "hot zone."
Soldiers found several simulated hazardous materials, pre-positioned by exercise evaluators.
"When we find contaminants, we immediately report this to higher headquarters and mark off the territory," said Staff Sgt. Michelle Waugh, a platoon sergeant with the 460th. "After that, we work fast to identify those hazards. Today we found chlorine, ammonia and carbon monoxide resulting from a mock secondary explosion."
An equipment operator inside the vehicle uses high-tech extraction tools to secure samples outside the vehicle, placing them into protective containers. Then the material is brought inside without allowing any contamination to enter the NBCRV. In most cases, hazardous material can be tested from inside the vehicle. Multiple instruments assist Soldiers in identifying each hazard as quickly as possible.
After locating, marking and identifying the hazards, Soldiers provide guidance regarding what kind of personal protective equipment should be worn. With this information, personnel can safely enter the hot zone in order to mitigate the threat. Normal mitigation includes washing the area until the material dissipates or enclosing the material into specialized containers for removal.
"In some cases, we can identify threats in a matter of minutes," shared Black. "This is essential because there could potentially be an ongoing threat to the surrounding community. In other cases, an organization like the FBI may need this information for an ongoing criminal investigation."
Further opportunities for collaboration will take place throughout the week, with the next major test coming tomorrow at the St. Joseph County Fairgrounds. Military and civilian authorities will team together, seeking earlier detection along with faster response times and mitigation of threats.
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