Preparing for Catastrophe

Article excerpt

A NEW team of Army Guard Soldiers and Air Guard medical personnel, known a CERFP (for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or High-Yield Explosive-Enhanced Response-Force Package), recently demonstrated to a team of Army evaluators they're ready to respond to a potential chemical-agent attack by terrorists targeting a U.S. city with a weapon of mass destruction.

The Missouri National Guard team, commanded by LTC William Johnson, was actually tested two months earlier than originally scheduled, because officials believe that terrorists might have been plotting another catastrophic event in the United States, perhaps to disrupt the presidential election.

The CERFP is trained to help local, state or federal authorities locate, care for and decontaminate casualties suffered in an attack by chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, or other high-explosive devices.

During the recent evaluation by officials from Fifth Army, the CERFP team demonstrated its readiness to quickly care for a large group of people, officials said.

"Everything went great. These guys surprised me. They surprised everyone," said MAJ Rich Ward, chief of the nine-member evaluation team.

Additional new CERFP teams will have at least 104 people when they're fully staffed, and will include an engineer element equipped to locate and extract victims from the rubble of buildings and from vehicles.

Johnson said an engineer unit would likely be added to the Missouri team next year.

Twelve state teams have been formed since last September--one for each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency regions, plus two extras. They have been developed, with existing resources, around the Guard's WMD civil-support teams in California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington state and West Virginia.

Ten of those 12 teams also underwent evaluation by officials from First and Fifth armies this summer.

While the teams in Hawaii and Washington will be evaluated later, they can be pressed into action if necessary, said National Guard Bureau spokeswoman LTC Kate McHenry. …