How did the WMD-CST program get started in the first place?
In 1998, President Clinton announced that the nation would do more to protect its citizens against the growing threat of chemical and biological terrorism. As part of this effort the Department of Defense formed teams [54th CST] to support state and local authorities in the event of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction. The 54th is located in Madison, WI and was certified operational by the Department of Defense in February 2006 and undergoes re-certification every 18 months.
What exactly does the 54th CST do? What is it’s mission?
The 54th CST’s mission is to support local and state authorities at domestic WMD/CBRNE incident sites by identifying agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with requests for additional military support.
What’s the difference between the 54th CST and Wisconsin's Regional Hazardous Materials Teams?
The 54th works in partnership with Wisconsin’s Regional Hazardous Materials Teams, providing additional personnel, equipment and experience to a response operation. In addition, the team can be requested by local fire, police or EOD agencies to support security plans of large, public events to help prevent or detect an attack. Finally, the 54th can be requested by an Incident Commander to assist with response efforts after a large scale man made or natural disaster. The 54th has the personnel, training and equipment to specialize in weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and situations with unknown but highly toxic chemicals. They bring unique technologies and personnel to rapidly identify chemical and biological agents and radiological materials.
Who staffs the 54th CST and what type of training do they receive? Are they part time?
[54th CST] The 54th CST is staffed by 22 full time Army and Air Force personnel covering 14 different military specialties. Every member of the CST is an IFSAC certified Hazardous Materials Technician. The team received more than 25,000 hours of highly specialized training from military sources like the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease and the US Army Chemical School. There is also extensive manufacturer training for their equipment. Some of the more unique personnel are a hazardous materials modeler, physician assistant, nuclear medical science officer, two satellite communications specialists and eight very specialized WMD survey personnel.
Who does the team work for at an incident, how fast can they respond and how much do they cost?
The 54th is organized under the Incident Command System structure and receives all objectives and tasks from the requesting Incident Commander (usually a local fire, law enforcement or public health official). Once an alert is received, the 54th recalls all members and deploys a liaison element from the Madison armory within 60 to 90 minutes. Two hours after alert the remainder of the team deploys to a staging area. Site reconnaissance missions can begin in the hot zone 60 to 90 minutes after arrival in the staging area. The team is federally funded and the only cost to a community may be for contractor removal of decontamination line and contaminated equipment once an operation is complete. There are no payroll, fuel, equipment or supply costs to any community that requests CST support.
What kind of equipment does the 54th CST bring to an incident scene?
[54th CST] In addition to the equipment most hazardous materials teams have, like Level A suits, SCBA’s and basic chemical monitoring equipment, the CST brings sophisticated gear as well. For example: The survey team can wear BG-4 Rebreathers and carry a portable GC-MS, HazID FT-IR and antibody based biological tests right into the hot zone for rapid identification. The Analytical Laboratory System (ALS) has a headspace sampling GC-MS along with IlluminatIR FT-IR spectrometry, PCR and ECL systems for DNA analysis of biological agents, and both optical and ultra-violet microscopy. Survey members carry state-of-the-art gamma spectrometers that not only find radiation sources, but identify most common isotopes. The Operations section uses sophisticated computers and software to create hazardous materials “plumes” and models of predicted outcomes and the Communications section has the ability to link multiple communications systems together and provide worldwide real time satellite links and secure encrypted communications.
Does the 54th CST do mass decontamination or remediation?
No. The 54th CST is equipped to decontaminate its own personnel, but does not have the capacity to decontaminate large numbers of victims. The CST will do some minimal hazardous materials mitigation, but can not undertake a true remediation mission. The CST can help determine hazardous materials remediation needs and identify appropriate contractors to handle any given situation.
If the 54th CST is military, do they provide site security for a WMD incident?
No. If an incident commander requests it, the team can respond armed to defend its own personnel from an aggressor but is not set up to provide perimeter security or assist law enforcement .
Does the 54th CST provide emergency medical treatment to victims?
No. The CST does have a Physician Assistant and Medic highly trained in treating casualties from WMD’s but they focus on “linking-up” with local EMS and hospitals to provide the information necessary to successfully treat patients within the normal EMS system. The CST can provide Advanced Life Support for a limited number of first responders, but does not have the ability to transport patients.