MILFORD, Mass. – A weapons of mass destruction response team conducted a readiness exercise at the Lawrence Municipal Airport in Lawrence, Mass., Oct. 20, 2009.
The 1st Civil Support Team, Massachusetts National Guard, and the 12th Civil Support Team, New Hampshire National Guard, used the airport and the adjoining property, owned by Osgood Properties to create a real world scenario for the various agencies participating in the event.
The teams’ training elements conduct elaborate and chaotic training exercises using facilities ranging from colleges during class hours to a former Soviet battleship. Without the support of the Lawrence Municipal Airport and private businesses like North Andover’s Ozzy Properties, civil support teams would be relegated to training in static environments. This level of support results in team members that can think on their feet.
Civil support teams are expected to be ready on short notice and are not notified about an exercise until they receive an alert that it is happening. The teams are given a scenario and they formulate their plans onsite and put them into action while being evaluated by their training elements.
The teams had to disperse and respond to situations at the airport and the abutting property simultaneously. The Lawrence Airport is small and as a result there were not a lot of external issues with using the facility.
“The target airplane was located off the flight line which allowed us to do our mission without interfering with air traffic,” said Maj. Martin F. Spellacy, commander of the 1st Civil Support Team, Massachusetts National Guard. The airport staff was extremely supportive of our training and ensured full cooperation. This helped in achieving our training objectives,” said Spellacy.
The exercise began next door to the airport at a large complex of buildings on Osgood Street. The scenario that the teams were given was a suspected WMD attack on the building complex which was a combination of a warehouse and office space.
“Working in the facility was a challenge, which is why it was selected,” said Spellacy. “There were many rooms and long corridors which provide many venues for the team to test reconnaissance procedures, communications capabilities, and sampling protocols on specific areas,” said Spellacy.
The scenario mandated that the attack happen while the Massachusetts team was out of the state so the New Hampshire team was called in to take the lead. After the New Hampshire team exhausted all of their resources the Massachusetts team returned to relieve them in place.
The North Andover Police provided an escort to speed the teams’ arrival and the North Andover Fire Department provided emergency medical support. Coordination between such agencies enhances their understanding of each other’s role in the event of an emergency.
Eventually the team discovered that the building complex had been sprayed by a chemical that was delivered by a simulated aerial attack. This led them to investigate the airport and a suspicious aircraft.