By 1st Lt. Mike Thompson
Georgia Army National Guard
MARIETTA, Ga. (2/7/13) - Every day, National Guard and civilian emergency responders across the country are training to better respond when crises of any kind threaten local communities.
Recently, the Georgia National Guard’s 4th Civil Support Team teamed up with the faculty at Georgia State University’s (GSU) Petite Science Center in Atlanta to conduct an emergency response drill to an incident involving a radiological source.
Working alongside the GSU team, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta police and fire departments, the 4th Civil Support Team refined emergency response plans, validated emergency management systems, identified fundamental policy issues and worked out how to maintain up-to-date personnel references on who to call in when a real emergency occurs.
“Every state in the nation has a CST team, and with that it gives the state unique capability,” said Col. Michael Scholes, the 78th Homeland Response Force commander. The 78th is the civil support team’s higher headquarters. “The CST has worked quite closely with fire departments and the inter-agency community at the local, state and federal level. Through that work, the unit has gained a really solid reputation for advising first responders.”
As part of the drill, GSU scientists provided a safe radiological isotope. Universities typically have radiological sources for science experiments, instrument calibration and cosmic research. Dosages are so limited that any exposure would be less than a normal day in the sun. According to the Health Physics Society, colleges may even use radiological sources that are so minute that, after they are no longer needed, a source can be disposed of in the regular trash.
“One of the research projects we do here at Georgia State is to develop sensors to detect cosmic radiation,” said Xiaochun He, a GSU department of physics and astronomy professor. “The detectors are multi-functional. Not only can they monitor cosmic radiation variances, but they’re also used for predicting weather patterns and climate studies.”
“In the long run,” he added, “the university hopes to develop portable, more accurate and cost effective sensors to use in homeland security.”
For this particular exercise, the 4th CST flew an initial team in by Black Hawk helicopter to pinpoint the source and determine where to stage with first responders. Once on the ground, role-players and GSU officials worked through stages of the response, and watched the CST team demonstrate its capabilities to the incident commander.
“I have to say, the training is great; it’s almost like it is real world,” said Anthony Coleman, a GSU police major and acting incident commander for the drill. “While we’ve had some training in radiological incidents, we don’t do it every day. Having the 4th CST come in and assist us has been excellent.”
The 4th CST’s 22 personnel provide support to civil authorities at domestic chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) incidents by offering identification and assessment of potential or suspected hazardous materials. They also advise on, and facilitate, the arrival of follow-on military forces during emergencies.
The unit is one of nine civil support teams in FEMA Region IV.
Georgia’s 4th CST is active across the state, training with first responders at Cobb County Safety Village and providing vital support for events at the Georgia Dome. Its members have provided technical assistance for Secret Service appointed National Special Security Event (NSSE) with Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) for the National Democratic Convention, support of other national level exercises and was called upon for six real-world responses in 2012.
“By doing events such as these, we get to meet the different agencies that would be in play,” said Jenny Matte, the senior research safety specialist at GSU. “In this way we get to know each other better, which makes it a lot easier to operate as a team should there ever be a major incident.”