CSTA conducts vital mission of training CBRN responders
January 29, 2013
LAS VEGAS - On the front lines protecting the homeland, small specialized teams of National Guardsmen stand between the American people and a potential chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident. To prepare for such a complex mission, they have to constantly train and be certified.
This is where U.S. Army North's Civil Support Training Activity steps in. The CSTA has the responsibility of training and certifying 54 of the nation's 57 civil support teams. The nation's CSTs support their local and state civil authorities at CBRN incidents by identifying the agents or substances and by providing their states with communications and analytical capabilities during a natural or manmade disaster.
"In 1998, to combat the growing possibility of a CBRN or weapons of mass destruction incident happening in the United States, 10 civil support teams were created to advise and assist local civilian responders in the event of an attack," said Bill Havlic, deputy director, CSTA.
While the CSTA trains and evaluates 54 of the 57 CSTs around the country, as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, U.S. Pacific Command trains and evaluates the CSTs located in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.
"We have teams going out to evaluate or train CSTs several times a month," said Havlic. "We are always on the road."
To make the training and evaluating of the CSTs easier, the CSTA is broken into two divisions: Civil Support Training Division -- West, based out of Fort Sam Houston, and CSTD -- East, located at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.
"The CSTs have to be evaluated every 18 months, by a technical proficiency evaluation," said Todd Chance, exercise planner, CSTA, Army North. "They are evaluated on their ability to accomplish 12 objectives that tests their ability to plan and respond to an unplanned CBRN contingency or crisis," he said.
Prior to evaluating a civil support team, CSTA provides the unit with lane training a few months prior the evaluation to help prepare it for success.
"There is a lot of planning that goes into these exercises," said Conrad Striegl, CSTD -- West. "It takes about five months to put together one of these exercises. The first thing we do is recon the local area to find a venue to train and evaluate."
To make the training more realistic, Army North trainers go to different locations around the state to find venues.
"Going to different locations allows us to evaluate the CST's ability to deploy to different areas and see how they work with different first responders around the state," said Striegl. "It also gives the local responders in the area the chance to train with the CST.
"These evaluation exercises are truly a team effort," said Striegl. "All disasters are local, and the CST is really a part of the community, so we are welcomed with open arms."
Members of CSTD -- West traveled to Las Vegas Jan. 24 to evaluate the 92nd CST, which is made up of 22 full-time Nevada Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.
The evaluation revolved around a possible nerve agent being left in an auditorium at the Las Vegas Readiness Center. As with a real-life situation, the first responders, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's all-hazards regional multi-agency operations and response unit (or ARMOR), was called in first.
The Las Vegas police unit is called if the CBRN incident is criminal in nature. If it isn't, then the Las Vegas Fire Department is called. If a first responder determines that there is a CBRN danger, then the 92nd CST is called in to augment since the unit has the unique equipment needed to determine the danger.
Once the 92nd CST is called, the unit has 90 minutes to recall its personnel and to respond.
"To make the evaluation realistic, the CST is only told whatever the first responders tell them," said Lt. Col. Donald Erpenbach, commander of the 83rd CST, out of Helena, Mont., who served as a liaison between the observers and the 92nd CST during the evaluation.
As part of the evaluation, the CST is evaluated on 12 separate tasks.
"There is no pass or fail," said Chance. "The unit is either trained, needs practice or untrained."
A few weeks after the evaluation, the unit will get a detailed report with the results of the evaluation. The unit is evaluated on every facet of its response, from its ability to deploy to the area to its ability to successfully redeploy home.
While the training and evaluations are hard work, it is not lost on the local CST units.
"The CSTA does a great job in providing realistic, difficult training," said 1st Sgt. Collin Care, 92nd CST. "They make sure we are prepared to do our jobs when it is needed."
The feedback and suggestions are the best thing about the training, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Jackie Lyle, the medical operations officer for the 92nd CST.
"The CSTA guys observe other CST units, so if we are having difficulty with a task, they can give us advice from observing other units, on how we can do something," said Lyle.