Guardsmen undergo WMD training at East Huntingdon business
Wearing orange hazardous materials uniforms, members of the Pennsylvania National Guard Civil Support Team worked in a makeshift chemical laboratory in East Huntingdon on Wednesday as part of a training operation.
“We're training in case something happens,” said Lt. Col. Bob Hepner, commander of the 3rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team with the Pennsylvania National Guard.
The team of 22 trains throughout the state to identify chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents, then assess the consequences and determine how best to respond.
“It's a different scenario for us each time,” Hepner said. “It gives us a different look each and every time.”
For two days this week, the group used office space and outdoor areas at Mobile Concepts by SCOTTY, a company that customizes first responder vehicles, including trailer units and smaller motorized vehicles.
Mobile Concepts offered their business space to the National Guard team for the first time because of the company's work with the Department of Defense and its respect for that work, company CEO Anne Degre said.
“We were told to do business as normal, but you can't help but feel humbled by what they do,” Degre said.
The “intense” training shows that the public can “feel confident that our Civil Support Team is prepared,” she said.
The team is dispatched through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. The crew of full-time active Guard Reserve members also backs up the incident commander on scene, such as a local firefighter or police officer.
“(We) bring a robust communications suite,” along with an analytical laboratory, Hepner said.
The crew is “totally self-contained,” meaning it brings its own medics and decontamination equipment, he said. It's also equipped with computers, network capability and a survey team.
An outside company led the “real-world” training, Degre said.
“The Civil Support Team does not know what they're facing when they show up,” she said.
Mobile Concepts manufactured a mobile command unit that the guardsmen used during their training exercises.
The company is now working to complete a 56-vehicle contract through the National Guard to build a “tactical operations center” for Civil Support Teams in every state and U.S. territory.
“(They're) jam-packed with electronics, monitors, surveillance cameras,” Degre said.
The vehicles are to be used alongside other emergency response vehicles to assist in a man-made or natural disaster, she said.
The company works with the Department of Defense, supplying equipment to the National Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, in addition to designing mobile marketing vehicles for businesses.
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.