By Air Force Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
BELLOWS AIR FORCE STATION, Hawaii (12/22/10) – Members of the Army and Air Force Hawaii National Guard all-hazards response team stood up a chemical, biological, nuclear, high-yield explosive enhanced response force Dec. 13 through 18 here to be evaluated by Joint Interagency Training and Education Center officials.
The CERF team was validated after six days of setup and training scenarios, in which the total-force team responded to a simulated dirty bomb detonation containing sarin gas and had to conduct search and extraction, decontamination, and medical treatment on the "victims" of the scenario.
"This exercise we're going through is evaluation of the team to be sure they meet standards set by the National Guard Bureau as far as responding to the disaster and treating the casualties that come out of the disaster," said Col. Stanley Sato, the 154th Medical Group commander.
The CERF has been around since 2004 and is evaluated biennially, Sato said.
Going through the validation together is particularly valuable since the Army's team changes when a whole unit deploys, whereas the Air Force medical team has remained much the same for six years and through three exercises, he said.
"The Guard's primary mission is homeland defense; typically, we've responded to earthquakes, floods (and) storm cleanup," Sato said. "We've never had any incident with weapons of mass destruction in Hawaii like they did in the Oklahoma City bombing, but anything that might happen to the homeland, we would be there."
Originally, there were 12 teams set up in nine Federal Emergency Management Agency regions, and Hawaii is a strategic location because of its isolation in the Pacific, he said.
"Typically, local first responders would come out, like firefighters, paramedics, police, ... but when they get overwhelmed, they would call in the CERF," Sato explained. "[We] can never be too ready to respond. With a mass-casualty disaster, the local EMS system can be overwhelmed in a matter of hours."
If a disaster occurs, the Guard could be called up by the governor to respond immediately. Additionally, Guard members could be sent to another state in an other-than-federal status, supporting not only Hawaii, but another state or territory, said Capt. Aaron Blanchard, the Hawaii National Guard CERF task force operations officer.
"We enjoy being out here," he said. "It's a tough week for everybody, but we definitely stand ready to support civil authorities in a disaster. We've done it before, and we're ready to do it again."