SAN FRANCISCO - The HAZMAT-suited men make their way down the crumbling staircase, their breathing amplified by their gas masks.
The site — a dank and dilapidated undergrown cavern on Alcatraz Island — would be unsettling enough for most people, but the complicated chemical lab inside the cavern is even more terrifying.
As they make their way around the room testing samples from various substances on the makeshift table, a man in a blue vest labeled controller watches from a corner. He’s waiting to see if the training exercise will be a success for the Soldiers and Airmen.
The California National Guard’s 95th Civil Support Team hosted BAY EX 2023 with local law enforcement and first responders to test the team’s interagency communications and emergency response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats Feb. 21-24.
“It’s been fantastic to see how the teams have worked together, and I am really proud of how the 95th CST has performed,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Crane, the survey team lead for the 95th Civil Support Team.
Civil support teams frequently train with local first responders and law enforcement so that when disaster strikes, the agencies can communicate seamlessly and understand each other’s processes and procedures.
“When we do these training exercises every year, sometimes every month with different agencies, it really helps us enhance our interoperability so that we’re on the same sheet of music, so to speak,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Alec Rantanen.
Rantanen works on the CST in the survey section and is responsible for documenting and collecting samples of any suspected hazardous material.
The annual training exercise focuses on simulated CBRN hazards in crowded locations and mass transit. It began in San Francisco at a BART station. Over the next three days, locations included Levi Stadium in San Jose, Alcatraz Island, and the USS Hornet, a decommissioned Navy vessel in Alameda.
“The CST’s mission is to support our response partners. We are an all-hazards response team; we specialize in weapons of mass destruction HAZMAT situations,“ said Rantanen. “We identify, assess hazards and advise and assist our partners in whatever they may need.“
This year’s BAY EX included the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team, San Mateo law enforcement, the Oakland Fire Department, local first responders, the 101st CST from the Idaho National Guard and the Colorado National Guard’s 8th CST.
For the Soldiers and Airmen of the Cal Guard, working with other state’s CSTs is always an opportunity to collaborate and compare procedures while providing the neighboring state’s unit a chance to train in a different environment, said Rantanen.
Civil Support Teams were created by National Guard Bureau to augment response to domestic CBRN incidents in the United States. The Airmen and Soldiers work full time to support operations and emergency response.
As the day ends, the HAZMAT suits are stripped off and the service members crowd around the blue vested observers to hear the results of the training, training that will improve their own skills and practices in the case of a real-world emergency.