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CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package

104th Fighter Wing, Westfield, Mass. -- Amid the panic and uncertainty that surrounds a natural disaster like a tornado, earthquake, or even a man-made disaster, the National Guard is prepared to bring calm and organization to the recovery effort.

Put to the test June 7-10, 2013, the Massachusetts CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear defense) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P) assembled at Camp Hartell in Conn. to execute their mission of providing immediate response capability to the Governor, searching an incident site, rescuing any casualties, decontaminating them, and performing medical triage and initial treatment for transportation.

Composed of Army and Air National Guard assets, this team is designed to respond to any state-side disaster in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region one within 72 hours--often being one of the first responding teams to an incident. What makes this team very unique is its ability to not only act a first responder, but also brings with it the capability to operate in a CBRN environment.

"This team is prepared to respond in all conditions," said Capt Mary Newton, EMEDS-CM Medical Plans and Operations Officer. "In this region, we are ready to respond during the winter cold or the summer's humidity."

"Each day of the exercise is designed around a different scenario to add realism to the training," said Newton. "One day they could be responding to a hurricane in New Hampshire the next day could be an earthquake in Connecticut."

The entire Homeland Response Force includes a number of different capabilities. One team specializes in providing command and control, one team provides the search and extraction capabilities. The Mass. Air National Guard provides the medical treatment, joint incident site communications capabilities and fatality search and recovery, while the Army National Guard provides the decontamination element.

The CERF-P works within the command and control format of the civilian agencies, to allow for quick integration. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is the national standard that allows for inter-agency cooperation. "We work very hard to step outside of our military communication styles," said Newton. "We need to learn and use new acronyms to ensure we are all communicating effectively with the other supporting agencies."

In addition to the NIMS organization being implemented, many of the process allow for information to be expedited to other agencies, to include the use of electronic tracking accounting system (E-TAS). Each survivor is identified with a bar-code, and the accountability information can quickly be shared with the American Red Cross so that families can be re-connected after being displaced.

During this exercise the team is assessed by Joint Information Environment (JIE-Tech) evaluators--providing real-time feedback on their effectiveness. The exercise intensity builds through the three days, with a crescendo on the third day; where the evaluation team adds multiple scenarios that re-enforce the required flexible response capability of the team.

The entire team works together is often unglamorous ways. Sweat-covered and exhausted, the teams rotate in and out of the 'hot-zone' working to transport, treat and asses the casualties while a specialized team transports those who died during the incident.

"Our job is not pleasant, "said Technical Sgt. Richard Hutchinson, who goes by "Hutch" to his teammates. Hutch is a key member of the104th Fighter Wing's Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT).  "But it is no-less important. We work tirelessly to account for the fallen and treat the remains in the most dignified way."
"The team gets a level of satisfaction knowing that it is supporting the community, state and even federal government during a time where they are needed most." added Hutchinson.

When the exercise comes to a termination, the members are certainly prepared to face any disaster. Last year, following their annual training exercise, the team was called into action during hurricane Irene; and the training paid off. "There was no greater feeling than knowing we were prepared," said Maj David Archambault, a 104th Fighter Wing medic and part of the Command and Control element. "These events get each one of the sections prepared for a real-world event...the hands on application practice is critical when you're in the field and you don't have a second chance to get it right."