Managing Editor John F. Morton met recently with Col. Jonathan B. (“Jon”) Dodson, USA (Ret.), DPJ’s National Guard correspondent, to discuss the National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive Event Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP). Following are excerpts from that discussion.

Morton: Jon, the two times we have met with General Blum [LTG H. Steven Blum, ARNG, chief of the National Guard Bureau] we discussed, in passing, the Guard’s CERFPs [Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Packages].  Could you provide our readers a little more background about those units?

Dodson:  Sure, John.  The CERFPs are part of the National Guard package created to assist local incident commanders with the National Guard as the first military responder in either a state role or a federal role.  In 2004, the National Guard stood up 12 CERFPs.  Each CERFP team has 500 personnel who assist the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] Civil Support Teams, the CSTs, by locating and decontaminating victims.  

As you know, the WMD-CST is a federal authority entity whose mission is to support civil authorities at a domestic CBRNE incident site byentifying CBRNE agents or substances, assessing the likely current and projected consequences, advising on the best response measures, and assisting with appropriate requests for state support to facilitate the infusion of additional resources.  So, in short, the National Guard CERFP teams add to and complement the current 48 fully manned and equipped WMD CSTs.  Incidentally, there will be 57 WMD CSTs operational by fiscal year 2009. Morton: The CERFPs are the same size as the Marine Corps’ Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force, the CBIRF – right?

Dodson:  That’s right.  The CERFP is modeled after the CBIRF and is a mirror image of it in terms of manning and equipment.  Their TTPs [tactics, techniques, and procedures] are also the same as the CBIRF’s.  

Morton: What are the principal capabilities of the individual CERFP?

Dodson:  A CERFP is composed of drilling soldiers and airmen who are task-organized from existing National Guard units or organizations. It provides specialized capabilities the National Guard may need when requested by local, state, or federal authorities to perform certain tasks.  The training and tailoring of existing units into a responsive, flexible force package ensure that the National Guard is ready to respond, when asked, with specialized CBRNE support.  The CERFPs possess an enhanced medical-triage capability, a mass-decontamination capability, a combat-security capability, and specialized search-and-rescue capabilities. All of these are achieved by leveraging existing capabilities and units, modifying existing mission-essential task lists, and providing additional equipment and training.  

The CERFPs are fully available to the nation’s combat commanders for the warfighting operations assigned under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, and they can perform the security duties at an incident site that already are being carried out by the state National Guard Response Force.  As National Guard entities, they also are dual-missioned to both the state government and the federal government – that relationship is what makes the National Guard so useful.

Operationally, they are capable of searching an incident site, including damaged buildings, and of rescuing casualties trapped in rubble, decontaminating them, and performing the medical triage and initial treatment needed to stabilize the casualties for transport to a medical facility.  I also should point out that the CERFPs – which are endorsed by the commander, U.S. Northern Command – are created from the National Guard’s existing resources. The CERFP is not a new unit, therefore; it is, rather, a modular unit made up from the existing National Guard force structure. And, as such, CERFPs also meet the need for future federal wartime capabilities.

Morton: How specifically would you define their mission, then?

Dodson: The CERFP mission is to provide immediate response capabilities to the governor. That would include the capability for an incident-site search of damaged buildings, the rescuing of trapped victims, providing decontamination capabilities, and performing medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize patients for transport to medical facilities.

Morton: Where are the CERFPs stationed, Jon?

Dodson: The initial establishment of CERFPs assigned at least one to each FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] region. There are currently 17 validated CERFPs. The CERFPs are alerted through their individual state headquarters and mobilized in a “State Active Duty” status. If the incident that led to the mobilization occurred within their state, they would proceed to the incident site when directed by their JFHQ [Joint Force Headquarters] commander. If the incident occurred outside of their state, their state headquarters would coordinate with the receiving state under terms agreed to in an Emergency Mutual Aid Compact, or EMAC, between the two states.  

After arriving at the incident site, the command-and-control team and element commanders coordinate with the incident commander and JTF [Joint Task Force] commander to determine how to most effectively employ the CERFP. I should note here that elements of these newly formed CERFPs already have responded to certain incidents of national significance to provide assistance to civil authorities and to mitigate human suffering.

Morton:  Jon, you told me there are four elements of a CERFP. Can you tell our readers what those elements are, and what they do?

Dodson:  Sure. A CERFP is composed of four elements staffed by personnel from previously established National Guard units. Those elements are: command and control; search and extraction; decontamination; and medical.  The command-and-control team directs the overall activities of the CERFP and coordinates with JTF-State – the Joint Task Force, State – and the incident commander.  Then you have a search-and-extraction element assigned to an Army National Guard engineering company, a decontamination element assigned to an Army National Guard chemical company, and a medical element assigned to an Air National Guard medical group.

Morton:  Let’s take a closer look at the search-and-extraction element for a moment.  Give us an overview of what it is, and what its mission consists of.

Dodson: Well, the mission is fairly obvious: to conduct casualty search and extraction at an incident site. The extraction levels of rescue are defined as basic operations, light operations, medium operations, and heavy operations. Basic operations include surface rescues at structural-collapse incidents, including the removal of debris to extricate easily accessible victims in stable environments. Light operations mean a minimum capacity to conduct a safe and effective search and rescue where the collapse is of a light frame ordinary construction building.  Medium operations cover a response to a building or structural collapse involving the failure of cinder-block or non-reinforced masonry construction.  Heavy operations involve the collapse of a concrete tilt or reinforced concrete and steel structure.

Morton:  How is this element – search and extraction – trained and certified?

Dodson: The element is first trained and certified to the basic operations level and can provide support from light operations to heavy operations. The training the element receives is in accordance with the NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] 1006 Standard for Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications – with special emphasis on rescuer safety, breaching/breaking, debris lifting and moving, rigging techniques, and basic shoring concepts. All of this is the same type of training that civilian urban search and rescue teams receive. This allows the search-and-extraction element [of the CERFP] to work closely with civilian urban search and rescue teams.

Morton:  Please tell us more about the radiation and nuclear aspects of these missions.

Dodson: Certainly.  If the CST has determined that radiation is present in the affected areas, maximum stay times are calculated and teams are sent into the area to conduct searches. The exposure of personnel is closely monitored to ensure that the rescuers themselves do not become casualties.  I also should point out that the search-and-extraction element is assisted by the security element, which provides additional manpower – or litter-carrying and other duties.  

The individuals rescued are taken immediately to the decontamination station for triage, decontamination, and treatment as required.  The search-and-extraction element commander directs the operations of the team, ensuring that exposure levels are monitored, that adequate work/rest cycles are observed, and that [reports on] the team’s activities and operations are communicated to the CERFP commander.

Morton:  Back to decon.  What about the decontamination element?

Dodson: The mission of the decontamination element is to conduct ambulatory and non-ambulatory patient decontamination – under the supervision of medical personnel, of course.  The decontamination element also assists the security element with local zone monitoring for force protection.

Morton: How, specifically?

Dodson: The CST first conducts a sweep of the incident area to determine the type and level of contamination present.  The contaminated area is then cordoned off, if possible, and entry-control points are established. Using information based on input from the CST, the decontamination element develops a decontamination action plan and determines the correct procedures and materials needed for the decontamination process.  The decontamination lines then are set up at the entry-control points, leading from the contaminated area, or “hot zone,” to the redress area in the clean area, or “cold zone.” This ensures that no contamination is spread outside the existing “hot zone.”  

Patients then are processed through the decontamination line and into the redress area.  Injured patients are processed under the supervision of medical personnel to ensure that they are adequately decontaminated without sustaining further injury.  The decontamination element commander directs the operations of the team, verifying the decontamination solutions and procedures, and communicating reports on their activities to the CERFP commander.

Morton: Which leads us, finally, to the medical element of the CERFP and its mission.

Dodson: Yes.  The mission of the medical element is to provide sophisticated and short-duration pre-hospital emergency medical treatment during a CBRNE response mission at rescue sites. More specifically: The team works with decontamination and/or casualty extraction teams to provide emergency medical triage, treatment, and stabilization prior to the evacuation of victims. Some of those victims will have serious injuries or illnesses and will require special treatment – usually right away. The CERFP’s medical personnel also are responsible for minimizing health risks, assisting in theentification of military personnel displaying symptoms of critical-incident stress syndrome or other negative health effects, and providing emergency treatment for the hazardous materials exposure of National Guard Task Force personnel.

Your readers should know that the [CERFP] medical element may work in coordination with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team [DMAT], under the auspices of the National Disaster Medical System [NDMS].  The assignment and capabilities of the DMATs are described in the National Response Plan.  In a real-world event, the medical element must be prepared to respond to a wide range of issues – including the treatment of physical injuries caused by blast effect and collapsing structures, stress-related issues, radiation exposure, and radiological, chemical, or biological contamination. In any of these situations the victims must be thoroughly decontaminated, examined, and treated as effectively as possible before moving them on to permanent medical facilities.  The medical element commander directs the operations of the team, ensuring that adequate rest periods are observed, and communicates on their activities and concerns to the CERFP commander.

Morton: Thanks, Jon. You are always informative.

Dodson: Thank you, John, for the opportunity to tell an intelligent audience about these important National Guard missions. I look forward to meeting with you again.

Jonathan Dodson

Jonathan Dodson, United States Army Retired, is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.  He has a Bachelor of Science from West Point, a Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Ohio State University and a Master of Military Art and Science Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.  He also graduated from the National War College. Jon Dodson served with the 1st Cavalry Division in the Republic of Vietnam and was an Assistant Professor on the academic faculty at West Point.  He finished out his more than 30 year Army career working in the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army. He has worked on successive Quadrennial Defense Review’s; the National Defense Panel; and various WMD Domestic Preparedness/Consequence Management studies.  His experiences and work in Homeland Security plans and strategy involving the Department of Defense is one of his expertises.

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