GROTON, Conn. -- Sirens wail as a fire truck speeds to a local school in response to a reported incident. Dozens of students are sent to area hospitals. The radiation alarm on one of the firemen begins to scream.
It is every parent’s nightmare and every citizen’s biggest fear, but for the 14th Civil Support Team (CST) of the Connecticut National Guard this is just another day on the job.
The scenario was presented to the 14th CST here on May 4, the opening day of CONN-EX 09, an exercise involving CST teams from across New England, New York and New Jersey.
The Connecticut National Guard is the host of the exercise, which is being held at various sites throughout southeast Connecticut and is headquartered at Camp Rell in Niantic, Conn.
The regional, multi-state, multi-agency exercise is conducted by U.S. Army North and is designed to test agency responses and strengthen our ability to collectively address future complex incidents by subjecting participants to simulated Weapons of Mass Destruction scenarios over a protracted period of time. It consists of a full 24-hour deployment cycle for each CST and is tailored to the various training needs of the other participating agencies.
Participants include nine CSTs from eight states, including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. Other agencies involved are Connecticut’s Military Department, State Police Emergency Services Unit, Department of Public Health, Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Emergency Management as well as federal agencies to include the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Department of Energy, U.S. Naval Submarine Base in New London, Conn., and the U.S. Coast Guard - Sector Long Island Sound and Explosive Ordinance Disposal Teams from various states.
“The exercise is designed to test and evaluate the teams on the unit’s effectiveness preparedness,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Van Damme, the 14th CST’s decontamination noncommissioned officer.
At 9 a.m., the fire department called the 14th CST for help after it found radiation at the school. The 14th CST is made up of 22 full-time Soldiers and Airmen.
“After we get the call our main first task is to get a reconnaissance team on site as soon as possible,” said Staff Sgt. Karl Rhynhart, survey team member for the 14th CST.
The recon team is tasked with gathering as much information as possible and determining if the area is safe or if evacuation is necessary.
“Once the recon team assesses the situation the rest of the team arrives and starts setting up,” said Rhynhart.
The CST consists of a survey team, communications vehicle, command vehicle and decontamination area.
“Once the team arrives on site our first priority is to get each area operational,” said Van Damme. “Once that is accomplished the survey team gets geared up and begins a sweep of the area.”
During the sweep the survey team checks every window, door and any other opening that leads outside, for any signs of a contaminate leak.
“We use devices which check for radiation, the amount of oxygen in the air and other contaminates,” said Sgt. John Barton. “We look for anything that indicates the toxin has escaped the building.”
After the team swept the exterior they moved indoors.
“Once inside things slow down a little,” said Rhynhart. “After we get inside we have to find out where the contaminate is.”
The team sweeps the inside, door-by-door, searching for the origin point. It’s during this portion of the exercise the survey team came across what appeared to be an explosive device.
“When the device was found we had to evacuate the building and go through decontamination,” said Barton. “Now we have to wait for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) gets here to give us the all clear.”
Once EOD arrives and clears the team to reenter the building they will locate the source and control it then remain on the site until another CST relieves them in the morning.
“Training like this is meant to keep us on our toes and make sure we have all of our ducks in a row and that’s exactly what this exercise has been doing all day long, making us stay on our toes,” said Van Damme. “This is what we train for, it’s why we look forward to this event.”