August 6, 2004
Virginia hosts major homeland defense exercise
By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia’s ability to respond to a series of terrorist attacks has been put to the test during “Determined Promised 04”, a major homeland defense exercise hosted by Virginia that began on Aug. 5. The exercise is a series of simulated and field training scenarios designed to test the ability of first responders to react to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attacks and coordinate the response efforts of state, local and federal authorities. The Virginia National Guard is one of the many organizations at work in the exercise, providing an Incident Response Force to augment law enforcement operations and deploying the 34th Civil Support Team to help with a simulated WMD attack in Chesterfield County.
The exercise began on Aug. 5 with a series of simulated attacks in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas where thousands of citizens were killed or injured, and continued on Aug. 6 with a field training exercise in Chesterfield County. After the initial simulated attacks, the Virginia Guard mobilized the IRF, consisting of nearly 500 soldiers from 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery and 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery, to augment state police traffic control and security operations. These units actually activated their alert rosters and conducted a field training exercise, moving the soldiers to locations in Richmond and Hampton Roads.
Before the training event in Chesterfield, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner spoke to the people on hand observing the training about the importance of such exercises as Determine Promise. He stressed that the event has been in planning for 18 months and was not a response to the recent elevation of the threat level in some parts of the country, but does reinforce the importance of the exercise.
“It is our hope and prayer that we will never have to confront the kind of scenarios we have been gaming out and planning out over the last couple of days,” Gov. Warner said. “But should it ever happen, it will be the planning that goes into these kinds of events that makes sure that Virginians are both prepared and are able to respond in the most effective manner possible.”
He also acknowledged the importance of first responders at the local level. “When an event like this takes place, it is always the first responders at the local level – the local EMTs, the local police, the local firefighters that are first on the scene and first to respond to the needs of the people.”
Virginia Senator John Warner pointed out that the training taking place in Determine Promise could have far reaching benefits outside of Virginia. “We are here to conduct this exercise so that if a tragedy not only befalls Virginia, the learning curve can be applied to the other 49 states.”
Warner explained that exercises like Determined Promise are designed to overwhelm the capabilities of local first responders and force them to seek additional resources, and test the ability of the those different organizations at the local, state and federal level to work together.
The scenario for the Chesterfield training event is an attempted WMD attack against the Defense Logistics Agency that ends up inflicting damage and casualties on a teacher’s conference at an adjacent school. After the attack, Chesterfield firefighters, police and EMT personnel responded to the scene of the attack to treat causalities and work to bring back some order to the chaos.
After realizing the WMD attack went beyond their ability to effectively handle, the call went from Chesterfield to the state Emergency Operations Center, who in turn made the request to deploy the Virginia National Guard’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.
The 34th CST is a federally-funded National Guard unit staffed by Army and Air Guard soldiers. It is one of 32 such teams serving in the United States. The team is organized and trained to augment local, state and regional terrorism response capabilities in events known or suspected to involve weapons of mass destruction, whether they be chemical, biological or radiological. They can support civil authorities by identifying unknown agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences of attacks, advising civilian responders and assisting with deployment of federal assists to help save lives and mitigate damage from a WMD attack.
The 34th CST has conducted numerous training exercises in such missions as chemical reconnaissance and decontamination, but it is rare that they get a chance to work on the coordination with a local first responders.
According to Lt. Col. Colleen Chipper, commander of the 34th CST, one of the first things they do is educate the local first responders on the capabilities they have and how they can assist with the operation. Once they have explained their capabilities to the local authorities, the incident response commander will request support from the team based on the needs of the incident.
In the Chesterfield exercise, the 34th CST was given several missions, including monitoring the zone of attack, plotting the possible area of contamination of the attack and providing technical assistance with Chesterfield’s decontamination efforts.
All the organizations involved in the exercise will be conducting After Action Reviews to capture the key lessons learned from the exercise.