Weapons of mass destruction:
The risk of technology accidents, such as fuel spills and toxic gas leaks, has been with us for some time.
As industrial technology advances, materials used seem to become more deadly.
Many police and fire agencies have done a good job of training and reacting to technology accidents. Local, and in some cases state, HAZMAT teams train regularly.
The federal government has enacted laws such as the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know laws (40CFR AKA SARA III), and resulting regulations have worked well to protect the public and safety workers.
New phrases are coming into the lexicon of emergency responders and planners, such as weapons of mass destruction, low-intensity conflict and asymmetrical combat.
An increased awareness resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has spread across America. Credible threats for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks have been discerned.
The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the March 19, 1995, release of deadly sarin gas in a Tokyo subway station, reported callout responses for the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team and the Sept. 11 attacks have shown that reality sometimes matches the threat.
How would a city or county emergency manager respond to an emergency involving a biowarfare agent, toxic gas or a so-called “dirty bomb?”
Local and even national resources can be taxed, and information is critical in responding to such emergencies.
The Army National Guard’s “Civil Support Team” soldiers have the training and HAZMAT equipment to enter the “hot zone” and test for nuclear, biological or chemical hazards. Most importantly, these teams are available to support small jurisdictions that may not have HAZMAT trained or equipped workers.
A National Guard brigadier general with headquarters in Norfolk, Va., commands 27 teams located across the country. These teams may be nationalized on the order of the president and mobilized to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The teams have no other function than to measure, detect and report their findings to the local incident commander. They are not part of any counter-terrorism forces.
(To learn more about this new Army Guard unit and the role they play in national defense, see http://call.army.mil/products/nftf/novdec01/novdec01ch1.htm/.)
The teams need communications to perform their duties, for team safety and to disseminate information to civil authorities for decision-making.
I watched members of the 103rd Civil Support Team from Fort Richardson, Alaska, in action. In addition to the air samplers, ray counters and “moon suits” they carry to the field, the communications suite they carry was impressive. Equipment ranges across all services from VHF and UHF land mobile radios to a secure satellite link to the National Command Authority (the president).
The Alaska team’s radios were Motorola XTS 300s operating on 403-470 MHz, and the team has the capability to operate on 470-520 MHz and 851-868 MHz. The team also carries IMMARSAT-B portable voice-and-data terminals.
To back up the commercial sitcom equipment, the team has a van-mounted Ku-band military satellite terminal. For use when all else fails for beyond line-of-sight communications or for long-haul communications, the team has an HF SSB capability. Portable scanners and cellular telephones round out the communications suite.
During the exercise, the team worked rapidly to set up shelters, protective equipment, monitoring equipment and communications. The Ku-band link was up in less then 30 minutes — not bad, considering the site was not surveyed. The Unified Command Suite (a portable van) holds a 15 kW generator, environmental control unit, satellite gear and equipment to provide secure communications. To see specifically what equipment and skill sets the team has, check out http://www.ci.anchorage.ak.us/iceimages/healthchd/103dCSTGeneralFactSheet1.pdf
Besides exercises, the Alaska Team has been called out to assist small communities with identification of HAZMAT materials of unknown nature. The remains of equipment, munitions and materials from WWII, Korea and the Cold War lay scattered across Alaska, so the 103rd Civil Support Team is sure to get it share of support opportunities right here at home.