The U.S. Army North conducted exercises Tuesday at the Western Kentucky University Center for Research and Development in Bowling Green.
The simulation involved the 52nd Civil Support Team from Ohio, a full-time response resource for emergencies or terrorist events that involve unknown hazards associated with chemical, biological, radiological and high yield explosive threats.
In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton announced the nation would do more to protect citizens against chemical and biological terrorism. To aid in that goal, 57 CSTs were formed across the United States and U.S. territories.
“The Civil Support Teams are designed to respond to support first responders when they have exhausted their capability or it has been exceeded,” said Jay Norris, chief of the Army North training team. “They specialize in terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Every state in the country has one and some have two.”
Each year, Norris and his team build mock scenarios in which terrorists have done something, and it is the CST’s job to figure out what.
“The scenario today is a homegrown terrorist disgruntled with the locals and had access to this facility, this university facility that has laboratories, and he is using the laboratories to create weapons of mass destruction,” Norris said. “Categories he might be working on might be a biological agent, chemical warfare agents or even some sort of a radiation device.”
Norris said the team was not aware of any of this part of the scenario but made entry into rooms of the research center to find out. Norris said bringing the team to unfamiliar environments is an important part of the training.
“They know Ohio like the back of their hand, so we wanted to bring them somewhere where they didn’t know everything and make it even more challenging,” Norris said. “They are having to work with locals they don’t know in an environment they don’t know.”
The new commander of the team, Lt. Col. David Foster, said the unit had been on task for about 61/2 hours Tuesday morning.
“We received a call a little bit after 5 a.m. We went through our deployment procedures at the hotel,” Foster said. “We always have a variance of information before we go in. We could know nothing or we could know almost everything and we are in that spectrum. We will do another collective exercise on Thursday. (On Wednesday), we will do a reset, an analysis and figure out what we can do better and how to be more efficient and figure out how to implement those measures from the first day.”
Foster said there’s a method to the training the CST goes through.
“This is the worst-case scenario,” he said. “We are training to the worst that we can have and some of the scenarios are challenging. What we do is that we always train to the worst so when we do arrive into a real-world situation, we will always be better than we were at our training.”
Maj. Tonia McCurdy said training in other states helps the teams be prepared for working in situations that might seem foreign to the team.
“At anytime, we could have to come assist another state,” adding that the Kentucky CST was not available in this scenario. “One of the good things about being here is that we are working with new people.”
McCurdy said the training is important to help the teams be prepared for real-life situations.
“When things are happening in real life, that is not the first time you all want to meet,” she said. “It is great there’s training, because in real life that is not the time to have little mistakes.”
McCurdy said she hopes the team will realize the importance of training.
“I can’t deny that sometimes you get tired of going over things over and over, but the more you train, the more you understand the various situations you can get yourself into,” she said.
Being selected for the CST requires a serious commitment, according to McCurdy.
“We are very selective about the personnel we have on the team,” she said. “Before we even ask the first interview question, we give them a statement that lets them know they are on call 24/7, 365 days of the year. In the first year … you can anticipate 400 hours of training and then about 300 hours every year after that to sustain.”
The second scenario the team will go through will be Thursday at the WKU Ag Farm off Elrod Road.