The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska trained 134 U.S. National Guard Civil Support Team (CST) operators and mission partners within the last several months for chemical, biological and explosive threat mitigation and response.
Through NSRI’s real-world scenarios and courses, participants investigate, collect and analyze samples, perform decontamination operations and coordinate with federal, state and local response agencies in real time.
"These courses are the foundation of what we have offered to our first responders since 2016," said Daniel Polanski, NSRI deputy director. "But every time we host these courses, we’re pushing the boundaries of what is possible to help create an environment that is as realistic as possible. We always say, the only way for these teams to prepare is to be as authentically in the chaos as possible, so we must keep getting more and more sophisticated — that’s our goal."
Participating CSTs included the 1st CST from Massachusetts, 3rd CST from Pennsylvania, 24th CST from New York and 52nd CST from Indiana. Courses were held in the field and at the NSRI National Capital Region Laboratory & Conference Center in Annapolis Junction, Maryland.
The 1st CST took on a two-day, full-scale exercise focused on chemical pharmaceutical-based agents, homemade explosive material and narcotics. In the scenario, a disgruntled individual improvised explosive material with the intent of disrupting a college graduation ceremony.
The team investigated a suspicious van located on campus grounds that contained what appeared to be an improvised laboratory. The team determined several threats, including the explosive material triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and large quantities of crudely manufactured fentanyl.
The two-day, full-scale training exercise for the 52nd CST focused on chemical and biological response, targeting chemical rocket motor production and featuring an Anthrax clandestine lab.
The team was called to investigate a home and discovered multiple volatile chemical compounds available on the open market and a makeshift biological production lab. They coordinated with the local Emergency Management Agency and fire and police departments to enter the exercise structure and collect samples for further analysis. Upon determining multiple chemical and biological targets present, the team advised the local response agencies on follow on steps and notified the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinator.
"With both full-scale exercises the goal is for the teams to train for events and scenarios that they would face on actual responses,” Polanski said. “We design these exercises so all response agencies can work together and collaborate in a structured environment. This allows teams to integrate and work a problem set collectively."
The 3rd CST completed NSRI’s chemical signature and recognition course, which helps participants become familiar with basic chemistry laboratory techniques, equipment, material capabilities and commercial chemical availability to increase their safety and awareness upon entering a clandestine or makeshift laboratory.
The course was expanded to accommodate 22 total students and NSRI’s chemical defense subject matter experts, Dr. Thomas Mueller and Dan Van Buren, facilitated several components.
The 24th CST leveraged NSRI’s pharmaceutical-based agents course with partners including the New York Police Department (NYPD) Counterterrorism Unit. Participants received hands-on instruction for different fentanyl synthesis pathways, production and current trends and sophistication of synthetic opioid lab operations. All participants tested current detection and identification methods using their equipment, and the course concluded with a practical decontamination demonstration where participants examined the effectiveness of various decontamination methods using a visual stimulant.
NSRI partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to assist with this course. Intelligence analysts presented some of the current trends and topics that were happening in the New York City area, providing beneficial context to both the CST and NYPD partners.
"NSRI is a research institute dedicated to putting solutions into the hands of U.S. military operators and first responders, and these exercises and courses are an essential mechanism for us to do just that,” Maj. Gen., USAF (Ret.) Rick Evans, NSRI executive director. “We are always honored to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with the National Guard teams through these events — they learn and so do we. I’m proud of our team for their efforts so far this year, and I look forward to more opportunities for NSRI to partner with the Guard."
About the National Strategic Research Institute
Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska leading scientists deliver innovative national security research, technology, product and strategy development, training and exercises, and subject matter expertise to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. One of only 15 DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Centers in the country, NSRI is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command and works to ensure the United States’ safety and preparedness against increasingly sophisticated threats. Read about our mission.