This set the stage for a scenario orchestrated by the NCNG Operations section (J3) and evaluators from U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), to test the skills of CST service members by undergoing an evaluation that is administered every 18 months.
"It's our validation exercise on whether we are able to respond to a weapons-of-mass-destruction event in the state or the nation, and so far the team is doing great," said U.S. Army Maj. Joel Eberly, the 42nd CST commander. "It looks like we are going to get a go."
The scenario started in Danville, North Carolina with a Blanch Prison incident. A citizen spotted suspicious activity near the prison and alerted the local authorities. The game warden discovered a laboratory within the prison being used to manufacture hazardous material. The suspects were apprehended, a Be On the Look Out call was issued on a vehicle owned by the apprehended, and the CST surveyed and analyzed material found in the lab.
"We try to make the scenarios make sense, so that they are real world, but they are also focused on what we are looking at," said Scott Boatman, a senior survey evaluation analyst for USARNORTH.
The scenario moved to Winston-Salem where the vehicle, which was owned by suspects, was found in the parking lot of an abandoned day care center. The Forsyth Emergency Operations Center was notified after officials found possible hazardous material. State authorities notified the 42nd CST again to examine and verify that evidence in the two cases was connected.
The primary mission of the CST is to respond to any possible terrorist attacks and disasters, while analyzing devices and materials that could be used as weapons-of-mass-destruction. This requires members to train on and operate various types of equipment.
"They have air monitoring equipment they use to monitor oxygen and explosive limits," said Boatman. "They have equipment that can monitor for radiation, equipment that can monitor for the pH levels if it's acidic or corrosive. Finally, they have a device that can detect for W.M.D. chemicals."
Survey teams wear the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus or the Draeger BG-4 underneath orange HAZMAT-like suits. This allows teams to survey a site for up to four hours safely without being exposed to or inhaling potential hazardous material.
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. James Storms, the 42nd CST 1st Sgt. said the BG-4 is a rebreathing system exhaling air that recycles air back into the suit. Carbon dioxide is scrubbed out and the oxygen boost is breathed back into the system reusing the service members' own air.
Teams tactically enter the site, systematically documenting and photographing every part of the building. The information found is sent back to the Tactical Operating Center.
"We are the work horses for the unit (survey team), said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Rob Ricks, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the CST survey section. "What that means is if there is a hazard inside, we are the ones that are actually going to suit up and site characterize the location. Once we site characterize, we will take photo intelligence and bring all that information back."
After the initial characterization process is completed, all of the information gathered is examined and analyzed. The digested information is communicated to the incident commander and the commander. This allows civil and military leadership to base their next steps of determining which samples of hazardous material to collect that will be analyzed at the onsite laboratory.
"We have five or six different activities going on all at once, so I have to conglomerate all of that information and provide that to the incident commander and the commander," said U.S Army Capt. Danny Fitzpatrick, the 42nd CST operations officer. "The biggest piece that is unique for us is that we have a mobile laboratory. That lab can do on-scene sampling and testing for things down range; otherwise they would have to take it somewhere locally. It could be a couple of days where we can do it in a span of 12 to 18 hours."
Evaluators use the Training and Evaluation Outline, a list of collective tasks CST members are required to perform during the evaluation. The correct performance of these skills is critical to civil authorities because of the response to constant real world situations.
"What we do is very important, but a lot of people don't know about us," said Ricks. "We support those civil authorities. An event like the Democratic National Convention, when you have so many people there, you have to have people there that can do each one of those aspects, and that's where we come into play. Not everybody has the radiation capabilities that we do and the chemical capabilities that we have. All those things are very important and there are not too many people that carry those assets and that's where it makes us a unique asset for other agencies.
The U.S. Northern Command is a unified combatant command with an area of responsibility covering the U.S., Alaska, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico that are responsible for defending the U.S. homeland and coordinating defense support of civil authorities. The CST falls under NORTHCOM and was first established after the catastrophic events of 9/11.
"They saw a need for an immediate response to hazardous materials and W.M.D. and this is the answer," said Boatman. "They have a sophisticated lab that they can tell are biological chemical agents."
With their capabilities these units become a valuable and unique military asset.
"We train as hard as we do, but nobody on this team wants to have to do our job because it's a very bad day," said Storms.