Disaster preparedness exercise held Sunday on Alameda Point
By Richard Bangert
An elite weapons of mass destruction emergency response team arrived at Alameda Point this past Sunday for a disaster preparedness exercise. The 95th Civil Support Team (WMD), a unit of the California National Guard, boarded the Cape Orlando along with nursing student volunteers, California military reservists, and ROTC cadets to practice their skills in providing medical triage assistance to civilian responders following a chemical, biological or nuclear attack or natural disaster.
Sunday’s exercise was part of a series of preparedness exercises in the Bay Area called BayEx 2011, and this was the first medical exercise on a ship. The last exercise of this scale took place in 2009. CST units from other western states were scheduled to be at Sunday’s exercise on the Cape Orlando, but their travel plans were halted by a threatened federal government shutdown over budget issues.
Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Zac Delwiche, the 95th is one of only two WMD units in California. The 95th is based in Hayward, and they are full-time and always on call. Civil Support Teams only move into action when called upon by local authorities. Their medical triage assets typically would swing into action if hospital facilities are overwhelmed.
After a breakfast provided by the Salvation Army, many of the volunteers played the role of victims by having movie industry fake injuries applied, such as severe burns. During the six-hour exercise, the volunteers were taught how to evaluate the injured, and the 22-member civil support team gained experience in assisting local responders.
The exercise also offered an opportunity for participants to evaluate and treat one of two interactive mannequins on loan from Travis Air Force Base. The $250,000 mannequins exhibit real symptoms and respond to various treatments.
Sunday’s exercise also provided shipboard triage training where responders separate degrees of injury and deal with the worst cases first.
Commander Delwiche spoke proudly of the contributions his team has made to the national standards for WMD response. He said the high level of training his team receives makes all the difference in its effectiveness. Still, they are outfitted with sophisticated equipment. The unit’s eight vehicles and several trailers – the same equipment all of the nation’s CST units have – cost $22 million.
In addition to medical triage expertise, CSTs also specialize in finding and identifying chemical, biological, and radiological weapons. A vehicle used to enter a suspected contamination area comes complete with instruments that can identify virtually any known chemical to parts per billion, radiological screening equipment and special breathing equipment. Their communications vehicle is outfitted with transmitters capable of sending encrypted data.
The team visited Alameda Point on one prior occasion, for an exercise on the USS Hornet to search for hidden weapons.