Civil Support Teams Come Together on the Water

Civil Support Teams Come Together on the Water

A member of the 91st Civil Support Team, Arizona National Guard climbs a Jacob’s ladder to board the SS Lane Victory, in the Port of Los Angeles, during a joint training exercise Aug. 27, 2015. The joint exercise was conducted with the 9th CST, California National Guard, the Coast Guard and the Los Angeles Port Police to allow local and federal agencies to train together in the detection and mitigation of threats in a maritime environment.(US Army photo by Army Staff Sgt. Monette Wesolek, Arizona National Guard Public Affairs Office)


LONG BEACH, Calif. – Two suspicious packages are reported on a merchant marine vessel in the Los Angeles Harbor. A tip sends investigators to a home on Catalina Island where the components to weaponize chemical agents have been located. Two Civil Support Teams are called in to identify and mitigate the threat. Thankfully, this is only an exercise, but one that could easily be reality.


The Arizona National Guard's 91st CST and California’s 9th CST joined with the Los Angeles Port Police and the Coast Guard, on Aug. 27, for joint training, focused on maritime functions and small-space maneuvering.


CSTs are a force multiplier for local partners, often brought in to handle chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive threats. These 22-man teams have the capability to respond to a scene, gather information and samples, analyze questionable substances and provide recommendations to the requesting agency.


The two teams have expert qualifications to deal with hazardous materials and the additional training on the ocean allows them to be more versatile in their support to local and federal partners.


“Our goal is to keep the free movement of commerce, and an event like this would negatively affect port operations,” said Lt. Ken Hawks, Los Angeles Port Police Special Operations Unit supervisor. “We are not only governed by the City of Los Angeles but we are also governed by the United States Coast Guard, and they could shut the Port down, which would cause a great hindrance of moving cargo to the east.“


Hawks went on to explain how joint training exercises like these are advantageous for all the partners involved, as they forge a cohesive team ready to respond in the event of a real world incident.


“Training like this ensures that we are more interoperable with our response partners, “said Air Force Lt. Col. Neal Rodak, 91st CST commander. “Additionally, many of these environments provide unique communications challenges, and confined space challenges that our teams need to be able to overcome, wherever they are operating.”


When the teams arrive in the harbor, operations personnel and CST commanders, make contact with the incident commander. The rest of the team sets up the command trailer, medical operations truck and prepares a port police boat as a decontamination lane. Meanwhile, others prepare to board the port police boat with gear to analyze and mitigate threats in two locations.


“This is one of the most difficult environments to operate in,” said Army Maj. Andrew Hansen, 9th CST deputy commander. “It’s difficult enough when you are operating on level ground in a level-A or level-B hazmat suit. When you are trying to climb ladders, trying to board ships moving from one boat to another in these suits it can be very dangerous, but that is why we are out here conducting this training.”


During this maritime exercise, a four-person and three-person entry teams consisting of two CST members and additional hazmat personnel from the LAPP, receives their mission brief, boards an LAPP boat in the harbor and  heads to their identified locations.


As two combined teams board a ship in the harbor, an additional team heads to Catalina Island to analyze and conduct mitigation on the threat there. The teams will simultaneously clear both the ship and the house before returning to the Maritime Law Enforcement Training Center to brief the command and teams on their discovery and subsequent actions to contain and eliminate the threats found there.


“Working with the 91st CST was very educational, seeing how other teams work and train,” said Army Sgt. Alfonso Anaya, 9th CST survey team member. “Learning how to work together will help us to better accomplish our mission in a real life situation.”