July 31, 2008

Civil Support Team trains with local first responders

By Sgt. John Slosser
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

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Tech. Sgt. John Nature from the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team,  scans a mock disaster sight for  possible threats during a multi-day, multi-jurisdictional training event at the Richmond International Raceway. (Photo by Sgt. John Slosser, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The opening scenes involve a mysterious and dangerous liquid at an international airport, then there is a police raid at a secret suburban bomb factory, and then the climax comes during lap 5 at a massive racing sports complex. No, this is not a movie script, it is multi-agency training in action where Virginia state agencies and first responders are training for the worst.

Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team concluded a three-day training exercise called “River City Guardian 08” July 23 at the Richmond International Raceway. The goal of the training was to improve the Virginia Guard’s ability to work with other state agencies and local first responders.

“This is part of a multi-day, multi-jurisdictional exercise,” said Maj. Terry Thiem, Deputy Commander for the 34th CST. “The scenario we are conducting today is a simulated terrorist attack during a race here at the raceway.”

Thiem explained that during the first day of the exercise at the Richmond International Airport, a package was discovered that was leaking an unknown liquid that caused a adverse reaction from one of the airport employees. Intelligence from that package lead the Virginia State Police to conduct a raid on a civilian residence on day two of the exercise, where they found a clandestine laboratory for making bombs and chemical devises.

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Personnel from the Henrico County Fire Department, the Virginia National Guard and the Virginia State Police discuss response options during the first day of River City Guardian at the Richmond International Airport July 22. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Thiem also mentioned that the scenario planners chose the RIR for the training because it is one of the largest sports venues in the Commonwealth of Virginia, at times brining in as many as 120,000 people for a single event. The scenario involves multiple explosions. Since the civil support team is pre-positioned at the RIR during most races, they would have to be ready to respond accordingly.
  
“It helps us because you don’t want to be meeting your first responder friends the first time you go to an incident in a real situation,” said Thiem. “What you want is to be training with those people, knowing who they are, knowing what their techniques are prior to the race, that way if something happens you work just like one team.
   
The training event gave elements from the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia State Police, and the Henrico County Fire Department a chance to plan and coordinate how best to react to a range of situations. The scenario forced the agencies to work together in addressing the possibility of high-levels of civilian casualties in chemically and radioactively contaminated environments with several mock-improvised explosive devises.

For most of the hot summer day, Soldiers, Airmen, Police, and Firefighters, (some of them in full chemical suits) could be seen scouring the ocean of seats and bleachers, helping casualties, looking for threats, and gathering evidence.
  
“Certainly the relationships developed in multi-agency, multi-echelon training will always help us should something unforgivable happen here in the commonwealth or the nation,” said Lt. Col. Bill Mahoney, Commander for the 34th CST.  “But, more importantly we understand our capabilities so as we develop the plans to mitigate the hazards and save human lives, we know what each other can do.”

After the exercise was over, Thiem identifies several important lessons learned from the event. “Developing communication interoperability early in an event is key to the event being successful,” he said. “Knowledge of the first responder personnel and the techniques they use is critical prior to an actual event.  Exercises, like River City Guardian 08, are critical to gaining that knowledge in a training environment.”

Thiem also said that maintaining flexibility and an open mind allowed all the groups to integrate in a very short period of time.

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