FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Members of the Alaska National Guard's 103rd Civil Support Team participated in a joint training exercise alongside local, state, and federal partners Feb. 24-25 as part of Arctic Eagle 20.
The exercise, which involved responding to a simulated Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) 'all hazards' response call, began with a simulated mid-morning raid carried out by law enforcement agencies.
Teams of gear-laden first responders from the Fairbanks Police Department, the FBI, and Alaska State Troopers entered the target, a dilapidated building that had been converted into a chemical
and biological agent lab by the scenario designers. Upon determining that the incident (a hostage situation) was part of a larger, more hazardous scene, the law enforcement agencies pulled back and brought in the Fairbanks Hazardous Materials Unit.
"Today our mission was to do an initial [reconnaissance] of the building to identify any hazards and materials inside," said Sean Heaney, a hazmat technician with the Fairbanks North Star Borough Hazmat Team. "For us being a response team, but also a volunteer team, typically we'll arrive on scene after someone else has called us in."
The hazardous materials team provides an initial walkthrough and threat assessment when potential chemical, biological, or radiological dangers are encountered.
"We're prepared to deal with most any threat," Heaney said. "[But] The main types of incidents that we respond to, or would be prepared to train for, would be chemical incidents. An incident like this is a little bit more far-reaching, and usually requires the aid of military assistance."
When local teams determine the threat warrants it, they contact the Civil Support Team, which immediately mobilizes to take control of the situation.
"We are responding to an incident commander call for suspected hazmat related substances," said Sgt. Fabiana Kirtley, an Italian-born member of the 103rd Civil Support Team out of Anchorage.
When a CST is called up by an incident commander, the team has one hour to respond and accept the mission. Shortly after activation, an initial element heads out to set up a staging area, prepare equipment and, in most cases, establish a decontamination line.
The teams hone their craft not only through relentless unit-level training, but also by participating in large scale exercises like Exercise Arctic Eagle 20. Executing missions in differing climates and environments ensures their skills are up to any challenge. By combining harsh conditions with a variety of participants, each of the groups develops the ability to quickly form cohesive, successful bonds with any partner organization.
"We train at a section level on a weekly basis and at a unit level on a monthly basis," said Kirtley, who serves as a survey team member. "We recreate scenarios kind of like this one. We train to meet our standards and exceed them. We train to perfection."
This site is one of seven training venues used for Arctic Eagle 20 across Alaska for the next several weeks. Agencies from across the state, the country and the world train together for dangerous situations, perfecting their skill sets in the cold. The operation demonstrates a crucial capability to promote regional stability and is critical to improving interoperability and maintaining an Arctic-ready force.