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The process of preparedness was practiced among 165 emergency responders from 19 private, local, county, state and federal California emergency response agencies and other organizations, brought together by the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska. A unique dual-location, multi-jurisdictional All Hazards Response Training (AHRT) National Level Exercise (NLE) was hosted by the NSRI across two major Los Angeles locations.
While the second-largest city in the United States went about its day on August 17, 2016, the NSRI AHRT team activated a day-long exercise that unfolded across two real-world venues. The day began at the world's largest man-made small craft harbor in the Marina del Rey and later continued at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the largest football stadium in the Pac-12 Conference and fourth largest stadium in the NFL.
The exercise facilitated a better understanding for emergency responders of the requirements necessary to successfully counter a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) event, including response to suspicious activity, hostile environments and hazardous materials, utilizing local, state and federal resources.
Emergency response agencies participating in the exercise included the California National Guard’s 9th Civil Support Team (CST), California Highway Patrol (CHP), County of Los Angeles Fire Department (LACoFD) and their HAZMAT team, County of Los Angeles Public Health, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and their HAZMAT team, Joint Hazardous Assessment Team (JHAT), Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC), Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and their HAZMAT team, Los Angeles Emergency Management Department Public Health, Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) and their HAZMAT team, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and their HAZMAT team, as well as members of the LAPD’s Counter Terrorism – Special Operations Bureau (CTSOB) and the University of Southern California Department of Public Safety (USC DPS).
Other organizations involved included the County of Los Angeles Department of Beaches & Harbors, FantaSea Yachts, Los Angeles Department of Transportation (DOT), Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles Rams, United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the NSRI. The 19 agencies and organizations, each with their own incident response mission, all came together to accomplish one goal: to better protect the public.
The training scenario entailed a response to a staged bio-terrorism event in the Marina del Rey harbor, in which unknown biological agents were being held with intent of release at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum by a hostile threat, during a mock game. As the exercise progressed, the participants teamed together to conduct joint maritime and land-based all-hazards operations. Incident Command Posts were established, multiple scenes were secured and samples were detected & identified for analysis and criminal prosecution. Also drilled were crisis communication procedures between relevant local, state and federal partner agencies. The exercise concluded with successful discovery of all related intelligence, correct sample collection and testing.
“Being able to collaborate, plan and execute such a large-scale event in the Los Angeles area is no easy task; despite this, the NSRI team was able to craft an event that challenged each agency's approach to a WMD incident, highlighting the fact that the 9th CST is ready, willing and able to conduct complex entry and sampling operations in support of local, state and federal response partners,” said MAJ Drew Hanson, Deputy Commander of the California National Guard’s 9th CST.
“Due to its sheer size and priority placed on public safety, there is a tremendous propensity for overlapping responses across Los Angeles, said Wes Carter, NSRI’s Director of Field Operations & Training. Carter expanded, “by integrating agencies, teaming and training together, we sped the process of hazard mitigation, which enables faster disaster recovery. Multi-agency coordination is vital to incident management, since crises are responded to by several agencies. Our role is to facilitate inter-organizational contact, allowing agencies to better understand each other’s capabilities and characteristics.”
Carter continued, “We leverage expertise and Combatting Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) research done at the NSRI and apply those concepts to encourage development of deterrence professionals, nationwide in addressing security challenges.”
“If and when a disaster happens, instead of who are you, it’s how are you, when you show up to a scene. So we know how fire operates, we know how police operates, we know everyone’s response style and we know how to better prepare,” said 2 LT Chris Quinones, Survey Team Leader with the California National Guard’s 9th CST.
“Everything is situational and one size never fits all. The variety of threats and constantly changing environments are why this type of multi-jurisdictional, multi-location training and exercising is crucial. It needs to be done routinely, due to ever-changing threats and evolving tactics and technologies,” said Michael Cassetta, LAPD Officer III, Emergency Operations Division – Major Incident Response Team.
Cassetta continued, “You will always find things that worked well and things that need to be improved upon. The NSRI staff, who are highly knowledgeable of hazardous materials, police tactics and the Incident Command System (ICS) were a great benefit in developing a realistic scenario around very specific hazards that we need to prepare for. The AHRT team enabled all agencies to improve efficiencies in their decision making processes when local, federal, state and private agencies are involved.”
From coast to coast, the NSRI’s AHRT program is actively enhancing teamwork across CSTs, local, state and federal law enforcement, HAZMAT and fire personnel who respond directly to WMD events through training programs. To better prepare for the vast span of threats across domains, and the comprehensive solutions needed to deter them, AHRT programs facilitate increased communication and cooperation between respective agencies.
AHRT was established primarily to increase collaboration between CSTs and their local, state and federal assets that would normally respond to an act of terrorism in their home states. NSRI AHRT instructors have provided training, exercise venue and guidance on all aspects of WMD response to over 3200 individuals and 150 agencies.
The NSRI, a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), is located at the University of Nebraska with field offices at U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Headquarters, located at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska and in Savage, Maryland. NSRI is one of 13 established UARC’s across the nation, delivering relevant and timely research solutions directly impacting Department of Defense (DOD) operations and national security.
Founded in 2012, the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska is the only University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) in the country dedicated to delivering solutions for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and across other federal agencies. NSRI provides research and development for the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other governmental agencies in multiple mission-critical competency areas — including development of medical countermeasures to WMD; nuclear detection and forensics; consequence management; chemical and biological weapons detection; and space, cyber, and telecom law. Learn more at nsri.nebraska.edu.