Response Readiness at Multi-Elevation

The 64th Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team (WMD-CST), New Mexico Army National Guard (NMARNG), is responsible for assisting local public safety agencies in both preparation and response to emergency incidents involving Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear agents whether deliberate or accidental.

By LTC Anthony M. Lopez, Commander, 64th WMD-CST, NMARNG

From Armor & Mobility, October 2019 Issue

My role as Commander of the 64th CST is to ensure that our team is properly manned with competent and qualified Soldiers and Airmen filling specific positions on the team as well as ensuring they are up to date in extensive and constantly evolving training requirements.

Covering over 120,000 square miles with over 2 million people residing in this high-elevation desert state, it is crucial for the 64th CST members to be in top physical condition, rapidly deployable as well as highly trained and proficient in their individual skill sets. It is also critical to establish and maintain positive working relationships with civil authorities in order to keep them aware of CST capabilities. Training with civil authorities also builds trust and confidence for future response missions. In the event of a CBRN emergency, the CST Commander is primarily responsible for the proper and timely deployment of the 64th CST to the incident site as well as interaction with the civilian Incident Commander and other supporting/assisting agencies throughout the event.

Environment-Driven Preparedness

Training opportunities in NM comes with both challenging and unique experiences. Albuquerque is the most populated city in the state and is over a mile high in elevation. Other frequent training and response areas can rise above 7,000 feet which presents a challenge to a CST member operating in a HAZMAT suit and a limited air supply. Average summer temperatures of 90-100 degrees at these elevations can further complicate efforts. However, NM is also home to Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, and White Sands Missile Range. Additionally, NM Tech hosts the Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings (IRTB) course which provides unique and realistic training to CSTs to improve and expand their skills. The 64th CST stays updated on emerging CBRN threats, trends, and training requirements. Additionally, the 64th CST places great emphasis on ensuring the local emergency response agencies are familiar with our assets and capabilities and know how to request support to deploy and assist them at an incident as well as the conditions appropriate for our involvement.

Mass Event Ready, Standby or Otherwise

The majority of the 64th CST deployments are standby missions for various events drawing large crowds. Annually, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta averages almost 1 million attendants over the course of 9 days and can see a crowd of over 100,000 each day. The 64th CST works together with local law enforcement and other public safety departments by conducting CBRN detection sweeps for any HAZMAT agents or conditions that may exist prior to and during the event. In the event of an actual HAZMAT incident, the 64th CST is relied upon by local emergency response agencies to assist in identification of hazardous substances as well as aid officials in the assessment of the threat and follow on procedures to help mitigate the threat and prevent further contamination.