North Carolina National Guard recently deployed its 42nd Civil Support Team, headquartered in Greenville, to a joint civil-military response exercise incident site in Rural Hall, NC.
The exercise, Foothills Iron Horse, tested the team’s capability to respond to natural and man-made chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.
The exercise involved emergency management response to a hostage crisis and hazardous chemical spill. Deputy Sheriffs, fire and rescue personnel swept the downtown rail yard in the center of the town of 3,000. The SWAT team rescued a hostage but when they secured surrounding buildings, they discovered a chemical lab in an abandoned warehouse.
Local leaders evaluated the reports from the field and checked with local hazardous material technicians. They decided that they needed more help and the 42nd CST was notified.
More than 100 miles away at the team’s armory in Greenville, team members with military and scientific CBRN expertise deploy. They are activated by the request and under the authority of local officials when the civilian incident commander on the ground determines a possible CBRN hazard. A convoy of vehicles with advanced laboratory and communications equipment, containment suits and other specialty gear is organized and in minutes, they are in route to Rural Hall.
Soon the convoy stages near the Rural Hall fire department. Maps are checked, photos reviewed and a plan made. A joint team of local firefighters and 42nd Soldiers will survey the site and determine what the threat to lives and property is and best response.
The team drives to the site. Several fire, rescue and sheriff patrol vehicles with lights flashing block the roads along the track. Soldiers breakout the equipment needed, air tanks, breathing apparatus, sensors, sample bags, radios, hazardous material (hazmat) suits and other gear to safely enter the suspected CBRN site.
Once the team entered the site, the pace was slow and methodical. The members check the entrance with portable sensors for any CBRN threat. They make their way through the main room choked with dirty furniture and dusty storage boxes. Their goal was locating a small chemistry lab of a more recent tenant tucked in a corner of the warehouse.
Beakers, chemical containers, a thermometer and a tray of white crystals line a small, improvised table. The team moves carefully testing each component. The team swiped sterile swabs on surfaces checking for unique CBRN evidence. Other team members checked radiation and poison gas sensors. They kept in constant radio contact reporting what they discover.
After completing the examination of the lab, the team returned the fire station to share what they learned with the other exercise personnel.
Article and images by Robert Jordan, North Carolina National Guard, edited for context and format by CBRNE Central.