SEATAC, Wash. – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is one of the nation's busiest airports and one of the busiest ports of entry into the United States for foreign travelers. Those are solid reasons why the 10th Civil Support Team joined with the Port of Seattle Fire Department and state Department of Health observers for a hazardous material recon and detection exercise at the fire department training area on Nov. 18.
"The scenario was simple – a passenger from a foreign country carries a hazardous material with them on a flight," said Maj. Wes Watson, commander of the 10th Civil Support Team, Washington National Guard. "It is detected as they enter customs, but now we need to survey the plane and help clear the scene. While it is simple, it is also a very complex exercise."
The exercise started with a team from the Port of Seattle Fire Department identifying radiological materials on the plane. The Port calls for assistance, and the 10th Civil Support Team rolls out from Camp Murray. Within an hour, the team deployed and set up on the tarmac next to a training plane, all while Alaska, Southwest and Delta flights were taking off and landing.
"We are built to rapidly deploy for these types of scenarios," Watson said. "We have the training, and our team is always rehearsing for these types of events."
Survey team members swept the plane for hazardous material readings. Once identified and marked, the team roped off the area. The team then suited up and entered the plane, sweeping the area and securing samples to transfer to the lab for readings.
The exercise was unusual in that the CST's work was conducted beside an active runway with multiple agencies, including the Department of Health, Port Fire Hazmat and FBI-WMD.
"In these types of incidents, we would be working with multiple agencies, not just the Port of Seattle Fire, so getting multiple points of view and observations during an exercise builds that relationship," Watson said.
While the Civil Support Team has deployed for multiple presidential inaugurations, Super Bowls and the Indianapolis 500, the chance to work with first responders in the state is the unit's true focus.
"We are a national-level asset, but we know that Washingtonians come first, and anything we can do to help protect our state is our team's ultimate focus," Watson said.