ARLINGTON, Va. – As football fans geared up for Sunday's ultimate event of the football season, National Guard civil support team members were on site in Atlanta to ensure Super Bowl LIII went off without a hitch.
"They're just monitoring the area to make sure there are no weapons of mass destruction or no precursors for WMDs in the area," said Army Lt. Col. Jenn Cope, CST program branch chief at the National Guard Bureau. "That will continue through the game and then for days afterward."
Elements from eight different CSTs from eight different states were in Atlanta providing assistance, with the Georgia National Guard's 4th Civil Support Team acting as the lead team.
"It's a continuous operation for a long period of time, so they'll need more than just [one CST]," said Cope.
The CSTs began their Super Bowl mission last week, which started with a sweep of the stadium and surrounding areas to get a baseline reading of the area. That allowed the teams to detect elements already there that may signal the presence of chemical, biological or a large-scale explosive device, while also providing a range of pre-game "normal" readings.
CST members then watched for any changes to those readings, using sensor equipment that allowed for near real-time tracking. Should a sensor have "pinged," team members would then have notified state and local officials.
"Their job is to assist and advise," said Cope, of the CSTs' mission. "They can't make the decision on what is to be done. That's done by local, state and federal agencies. We're there in a support role."
And the CSTs are uniquely equipped and set up to provide that support, said Cope.
"The CSTs are set up specifically to be able to work with our interagency partners – that's part of our prime mission," she said. "Our radio frequencies are the same that local first responders or the FBI or other agencies at these events use. The CST's mission is to assess the situation, analyze and provide information to our interagency partners."
Taking part in the behind-the-scenes aspect of the Super Bowl isn't a new mission for the CSTs, who provide similar monitoring and analysis at large-scale events, including the State of the Union Address, high-profile sporting events and other comparable large or high visibility events.
"The CSTs participate in most national security events," said Cope. "The Super Bowl falls under that."
Cope added that the CSTs are the perfect asset for the mission of detecting possible WMDs.
"The CSTs are the most trained, the best-trained assets for countering WMDs," she said. "There is no other unit like them in the National Guard and even in the active component there are very few teams that do what the CSTs do."
When not supporting events like the Super Bowl, CSTs are often called upon by state and local authorities to respond to incidents involving the release or threatened release of nuclear, biological, radiological, or toxic or poisonous chemicals. In fiscal year 2017, the last year for which data is available, CSTs responded to more than 3,100 events or incidents throughout the U.S.
"They provide that broad spectrum of detection and protection for the states and the events that are happening," said Cope. "Our guys analyze and detect and then provide that critical information back to state, local and federal authorities."
And that's all part of the mission.
"WMDs are a threat throughout the world," said Cope. "The CSTs are set up to protect the homeland from that."