By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau
DES MOINES, Iowa (06/18/09) - For many people, the acronym CERFP may be an unfamiliar term. But not for participants of Vigilant Guard Iowa, a training exercise designed to foster working relationships between National Guard units and local first responders. They are seeing firsthand what a CERFP can do in a disaster.
Part urban search and rescue and part hazardous materials decontamination team, the CERFP, or Chemical, Biological, Nuclear, Radiological and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, is able to fill in should a situation become overwhelming for the capabilities of local authorities.
“It’s basically a 180-200 person team that has decontamination, extraction, medical and command and control (capabilities) that is designed to provide mass decon and medical treatment to victims,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Kimberly Sencindiver, National Guard Bureau Collective Training branch chief.
As part of Vigilant Guard, which features a chemical spill from a derailed train as its main training challenge, the CERFP teams are there to provide a unique capability to local authorities.
“Where this is unique is local authorities, specifically firefighters, generally have a very limited amount of equipment or personnel that can go into a contaminated zone and provide the decon, extraction, search and rescue and medical care that would be critical to save lives and property,” said Sencindiver, who added that the CERFPs can provide that capability.
The teams were developed specifically to fill the gap between local responders and disasters situations that necessitate a larger response force, said Sencindiver.
“It was actually developed after a capability gap was looked into years ago on a national level,” she said. “That gap was that we needed to provide mass decon and extraction capabilities for both military and civilian populations in the event of a (use of Weapons of Mass Destruction) or a natural disaster. That’s the void that this team fills.”
And for those on a CERFP team, Vigilant Guard provides a venue to interact and work with local authorities on a large-scale basis.
“It’s learning by doing,” said Army Lt. Col. Chad Stevens, commander of the Nebraska National Guard’s CERFP taking part here. “Everybody gets to get their hands on and actually visually see what a CERFP is instead of seeing it on a (briefing) slide or in an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) book.”
That allows for local authorities and the CERFP teams to understand each other’s capabilities, said Stevens, which in turn allows for a more fluid communication and integration should the need arise.
“It’s very important to have good communication with local authorities,” said Sencindiver. “These teams are designed and set up to support local authorities.”
And that is the underlying goal of Vigilant Guard.
“(It is) designed to facilitate the interaction between the civilians and the military personnel above and beyond what may already be occurring out there,” said Sencindiver.
But for those on the CERFP team, Vigilant Guard has an additional end result.“It’s a great honor,” said Stevens.