Editor’s note: additional photos are available by clicking here.
108 emergency responders across seven local, county, state, regional and federal emergency response agencies were recently brought together by the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska for a multi-jurisdictional All Hazards Response Training (AHRT) National Level Exercise (NLE) in the Port of Baltimore on May 18, 2016. NSRI AHRT professionals and programs provide realistic training scenarios, facilities, and subject matter experts to increase the preparedness of responders.
The NSRI, a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), is located at the University of Nebraska with 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.
The seven participating emergency response agencies included Baltimore City Fire, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (HCDFRS) Special Operations, Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Police, Maryland Port Administration (MPA), Pennsylvania National Guard's 3rd Civil Support Team (CST) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD).
The MPA hosted the location, a docking station at the Port of Baltimore's North Locust Point Marine Terminal. “It was an excellent opportunity for the Port of Baltimore to team up with NSRI for this outstanding exercise,” said MPA Director of Security David Espie. “Effectively responding to any incident requires sound communication and coordination with local and federal partners. Exercises like this go a long way to ensure you are prepared to meet those challenges that our world presents today and tomorrow.”
The high security harbor location provided a realistic backdrop for the complete cradle to grave exercise. The training vessel was provided by MARAD. In coordination with MARAD and MPA, the Ready Reserve Force vessel, FFS ANTARES, a Fast Sealift Ship with the capacity to carry 800+ military vehicles including trucks, tanks and helicopters, offered a real-world, intricate facility for the scenario. Fast sealift ships are some of the fastest cargo ships in the world, capable of sailing from the U.S. East Coast to the Persian Gulf in 18 days.
The ANTARES, which is maintained by MARAD in a reduced operating status at the Port of Baltimore to support rapid military deployment, was staged with a mock clandestine laboratory operation in one of the ships many unsuspecting staterooms. NSRI Director of Field Operations and Training, Wes Carter staffed the ship with mock opposition force in the form of shipmates, while NSRI Director of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear & Explosive (CBRNE) Counterproliferation and Defeat, Dillon Cunningham staged the ship with nefarious items and a mock clandestine weapons of mass destruction (WMD) production laboratory as well as other sample evidence. Advisor Dan Polanksi ensured that responding law enforcement agencies and HAZMAT personnel were following operational guidelines and agency Standard Operating Procedures during multiple phases throughout the day. Also playing active roles in supporting the scenario were the ANTARES Ship Captain, Engineer and First Mate.
The 108 emergency responders teamed together in a test of their counter-WMD preparedness and readiness including response to suspicious activity, hostile environments and hazardous materials. In addition to the 108 personnel on the scene were their Special Service Vehicle (SSV) fleets, including Incident Command trucks, mobile command trailers, Special Response Team (SRT) assets, Medical Response Vehicles (MRV’s), mobile laboratory, survey and decontamination (DECON) trucks and a Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) outfitted with flash point detectors, used by a Survey Entry Team. Equipment ranged from communications technology, tactical, protective and laboratory sampling/testing gear to HAZMAT decontamination lines. Also paramount to a WMD event is the extensive range of expertise needed on the scene. The NSRI AHRT exercise participants reflected the range of crucial CBRNE weapons expertise and capability.
The exercise facilitated a better understanding of the requirements necessary to successfully counter a WMD event. In this particular scenario, unknown WMD agents were being produced by an armed, hostile threat; a mock shipmate, aboard the ANTARES. The ANTARES Ship Captain played the role of initiating an investigation, which began the exercise. As the exercise progressed, the unknown WMD agents were successfully secured, collected and identified. Each agency played a critical part in utilizing local, state and federal resources to secure the scene and collect environmental samples for analysis and criminal prosecution. Participants exercised sampling operations with local first responders, the FBI, Laboratory Response Network (LRN) and CST. Also drilled were crisis communication procedures between relevant local, state and federal partner agencies.
“The training exercise was an excellent opportunity to train with other agencies,” said CPT Arthur Prough, Operations Officer with Pennsylvania National Guard's 3rd Civil Support Team. “If there's an incident, you don't want that to be your first time working together. You get to know other agency's idiosyncrasies, so it's good to do these exercises and work together. It's also not every day we have access to a real ship as a training ground, unlike a mock training building. We were offered a very real-world, valuable training experience.”
“Members of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police's Tactical Command and Port Detachment were pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the NSRI’s training exercise,” said Major Antonio Rodriguez. “These types of exercises help us prepare for emergencies, identify our effectiveness during crises and evaluate our preparedness for different tactical and disaster scenarios. Any time that you can test your emergency preparedness and asset coordination based on realistic scenarios is a plus.”
The AHRT initiative at the NSRI has been expanded to offer outreach and training programs to government agencies, public health and first responder personnel. NSRI’s Carter states that “AHRT continues to be one of the most requested training programs by CSTs, Federal Law Enforcement, HAZMAT and Fire personnel that respond directly to WMD events. The benefits of AHRT training include increased communication and cooperation between the respective agencies and decreased numbers of non-credible samples collected by responding 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. To date, NSRI AHRT instructors have provided training, exercise venue and guidance on all aspects of WMD response to over 3000 individuals and 130 agencies. Future NSRI AHRT exercises are planned across various nation-wide locations and will utilize real-world settings.
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.