Tuesday, June 08, 2010

CBRNE rapid response teams to be deployed nationwide

“The thing we all worry about is a terrorist with a weapon of mass destruction,” Navy Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., the commander of U.S. Northern and North American Aerospace Defense Commands, told American Forces Press Service. “And, increasingly, we worry about terrorists who are realizing that they don’t need a big boom to make a difference.”

That is why the Pentagon has announced that Ohio and Washington are the first two states to have been selected to host the new National Guard homeland response forces (HRF).

Called for in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the HRF is designed to work in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), at the behest of an affected state’s governor, to provide rapid response to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-explosive (CBRNE) attacks. The Department of Defense (DoD) plans to establish 10 HRFs, one for each of the 10 FEMA regions across the U.S.

Each HRF will consist of 570 guardsmen that will be able to respond to a CBRNE threat on the ground within six to 12 hours. The team will have 45 medical personnel, 50 search and extraction personnel, 75 decontamination personnel, as well as a 200-member security team and another 200 individuals who will execute command-and-control. When not deployed, the teams will focus on planning, training and exercising at the regional level.

“We would like to see [the HRF] play a very important role at the regional level in terms of helping develop and build regional plans and working with the state emergency managers,” said Christine Wormuth, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and security affairs, at the National Guard Bureau's Domestic Operations Workshop on March 24. "We'd like to see the HRFs, that command and control element inside of the HRFs, really build that connective tissue at the regional level."

DoD hopes to have the first two offices open by the end of the year, with an additional office opening each year over the next eight years.

But there are still aspects of the program that need to be worked out, Wormuth noted. “Do the HRFs have to be focused only on CBRNE events or could they be used for major natural disasters like a major earthquake in California?” she asked. “And if they are going to be available for some natural disasters, how are we going to ensure that they are used prudently?”

But both Wormuth and Winnefeld have faith that the program will succeed.

Northcom has a “good, cooperative effort [with] the National Guard Bureau,” Winnefeld said. “That cooperation is growing tighter every day in terms of making sure we know the roles are standardized, and that the command and control is clean.

“I am optimistic,” Winnefeld continued.

“It’s a team effort,” Wormuth added.