NSRI Leads Pharmaceutical-Based Agents Course for 53rd Civil Support Team

January 29, 2020


The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska recently conducted a two-day class and full-scale exercise regarding pharmaceutical-based agents for the 53rd Civil Support Team (CST) in Indianapolis, Ind.

Twenty-two participants learned hazards and risks associated with responding to a fentanyl incident through lecture and hands-on practical stations. Stations included:

  • Pill manufacturing

  • Decontamination

  • Analysis of fentanyl analogs

  • Improvised synthesis laboratories

Daniel Polanski, deputy director of NSRI field operations and training, led the course.

“The hands-on, practical portion is crucial to the success of this course,” he said. “We break down the different phases of a pharmaceutical based agents response and teach the students the skills they need to support their first responder partners.”

Under the direction of chemist Tom Mueller, NSRI Deputy Director Chemical Defense, students also learned how to manufacture one of the precursors needed in the synthesis process. The process only takes a few hours, and the product is then analyzed on the team’s equipment and properly disposed.

During the pill manufacturing station, students learned how the process works by “cutting” an inert powder simulating fentanyl with several different materials commonly used on the street-level production to make the “product.”  Next, using a pill press and capsule filling machine, students press out and make a small batch of pills.

The decontamination station — one of the most important training evolutions in the course according to course instructor John Zour of the Howard County Fire Department in Maryland — demonstrates the different approach needed for a fentanyl-based agent. When dealing with fentanyl-based analogs, physical removal isn’t enough. Several products oxidize the analog, chemically changing them, so they don’t get into the air and continue to cause a problem.

At the conclusion of the course, the 53rd CST practiced what they learned by participating in a full-scale exercise programmed and implemented by NSRI. The scenario was for the 53rd CST to support a law enforcement unit that was going into a possible narcotics laboratory. 

The police requested assistance from the civil support team, and the 53rd deployed to the event to assist the incident commander. 

The team surveyed the area and made entry into a building where a street-level drug lab was in operation, mixing fentanyl in with other narcotics. The team collected samples and analyzed them in their mobile analytical laboratory. 

Within hours of arriving on scene, the CST was able to:

  • Identify the lab

  • Process samples

  • Brief the incident commander

  • Render advice on decontamination, protective equipment and all the hazards associated with the material on-site

This type of training is just one of the classes and exercises NSRI offers to the first response community and the Department of Defense National Guard Civil Support Teams. 

Learn more at nsri.nebraska.edu/ahrt.