National Strike Force trains for all hazards

The National Strike Force is one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s highly capable and experienced maritime crisis management teams. Standing ready to deploy to any hazard, any time, any place since 1973, NSF personnel have responded to many historic incidents providing the American public with rapidly deployable technical experts, specialized equipment and incident management capabilities.

The following story is re-printed with permission from the Center for Domestic Preparedness Alumnus Newsletter, Issue 4 (PDF).

National Strike Force members conduct training at the Center for Disaster Preparedness

(Left to Right) Chief Petty Officer Bo Lisenby, Lt. j.g. Jason Scott, both representing the Gulf Strike Team, and Chief Petty Officer Kevin Cronin, of the Atlantic Strike Team, examine individual Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear detection devices at the Center for Domestic Preparedness. Photo courtesy of the Center for Domestic Preparedness Alumnus Newsletter.

Atlantic Strike Team members dressed in level B response gear

Atlantic Strike Team members walk through a decontamination line in level B response gear during an exercise Aug. 28, 2007. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Cmdr. David Haynes.

The United States Coast Guard National Strike Force responds to hazardous events across the country to protect public health and the environment. Since 2008, the Center for Domestic Preparedness has assisted their mission by training more than 90 of the 200-plus men and women who make up this specialized strike force.

The CDP, located in Anniston, Ala., focuses training on incident management, mass casualty response and emergency response to a catastrophic natural disaster or terrorist act. It is the only facility in the country where civilian responders can train using actual nerve agents.

The NSF is comprised of three Strike Teams – Atlantic Strike Team, Gulf Strike Team and Pacific Strike Team – and the Public Information Assist Team. Four personnel, representing the Atlantic and Gulf Strike Teams, recently completed the CDP’s Hazardous Material Technician for CBRNE Incidents (HT) course.

National Strike Force member observes lightering operations

Chief Petty Officer Alan Dooley, from the Pacific Strike Team, observes fuel lightering operations on a 112-foot grounded fishing vessel March 10, 2009. Coast Guard Photo/ PA3 Walter Shinn.

“I found this training extremely enlightening and would recommend it to other strike teams,” said Chief Petty Officer Kevin Cronin, from the Atlantic Strike Team. “This is a very unique facility; and to work with nerve agents in a scenario response is not training you can get anywhere else. I feel more confident.”

The HT course provides students an overview of the international and domestic threats with a spotlight on identification and decontamination of biological or chemical hazards. The course also includes hazardous materials technical training for operating in an all-hazards environment and preservation of crime scene evidence. HT training incorporates advanced competencies, technology, and tactics that focus on the specific threats associated with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) material.

Strike teams specialize in hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction incidents and, according to Cronin, working with a variety of agencies representing state and local jurisdictions, made a difference in his training.

Pacific Strike Team samples hazardous materials

Coast Guard members sample contents from a drum during a hazardous material exercise conducted by the Pacific Strike Team March 17, 2008. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Melissa Hauck.

The HT course culminates at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological training facility – the only training site of its kind for civilian emergency responders. Working with nerve agents GB (Sarin) and VX the students continue the scenario to rescue and protect citizens, preserve evidence, and locate and identify the toxic substance.

The course runs three days and quickly moves students from the classroom to hands-on experience responding to a potential crime scene involving hazardous substances. These drills allow students to practice and reinforce their new skills and knowledge in a realistic training environment. The exercise areas are enhanced with realistic props, loud and confusing noise, alarms and theatrical smoke. The responders enter with just the assistance of their response equipment and a handheld flashlight.

“I was impressed with the outside, diverse expertise from the instructors,” said Lt. j.g. Jason Scott, Chemical Response Officer for the Gulf Strike Team. “This is a great introduction to WMD response and focuses on all facets of CBRNE type materials. If you don’t train, you aren’t going to be ready, and a facility like this offers an opportunity to train for hazardous or WMD events realistically. Strike team members need to come here as early as they can in their strike team career.”

The CDP is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The center develops and delivers 55 advanced training courses for emergency response providers, emergency managers and other government officials.

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