34th CERFP leaders conduct tabletop training exercise

Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen conduct a tabletop exercise simulating search and extraction, decontamination and medical support response to a mass casualty incident Dec. 6, 2019, at the S. Gardner Waller Depot in Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

RICHMOND, Va. — Leaders from the Virginia National Guard’s Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package conducted a tabletop disaster scenario training exercise Dec. 6, 2019, at S. Gardner Waller Depot in Richmond, Virginia. 

CERFP element leaders worked together to simulate a response to a fictional coordinated attack in Pennsylvania involving an intentional release of radioactive material from a nuclear facility as well as a truck bombing at an area middle school. 

Using color coded poker-style chips representing Soldiers and Airmen from the CERFP’s focused response elements, the leaders maneuvered their assets according to the scenario’s timeline and events. 

The CERFP is comprised of command and control, decontamination, search and rescue, medical triage and treatment, communications and fatality search and recovery teams, all working together to save lives during a mass casualty incident. The tabletop training exercise allowed the various component leaders to work together and talk through conflicts and issues without the stress of a full-scale exercise or real-world response. 

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“The purpose of the exercise was to get the command teams together to really understand a real-world scenario that could actually happen,” said Maj. Andrew J. Czaplicki, the 34th CERFP’s deputy commander. “The scenario we brought in today was a new scenario that referenced previous real-world events, which led to a lot more conversation about the issues our commanders would have to overcome. We did that in an environment that really focused their attention on the theoretical side without putting troops at risk.” 

The scenario included discussing the logistics of a rapid no-notice deployment, as would happen in a real-world incident. That discussion included how best to notify and mobilize the CERFP’s team members, who are located in all parts of the state. 

“This is really excellent training. It’s a lot of things we haven’t thought about,” said Capt. Justin J. Furtek, the decontamination element commander. “We’re looking at what are the options we have in a real-world scenario instead of training to complete an external evaluation. Instead of training to just pass a test, we really need to be thinking about what happens if we really were to kick off.”

The deliberate pace of the exercise allowed the CERFP’s separate elements to talk out each step of a theoretical response, allowing for the identification of speed bumps the unit might encounter during a response and finding team-focused solutions. 

Using poker-style chips to represent individual CERFP team members, the tabletop exercise focused on helping element leaders identify and find solutions for any issues or conflicts that might arise during a short-notice full scale response operation. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“They’re now thinking of a lot more things than just showing up for an exercise. Taking real-world conditions and the environment we’re living in today – they have to think about a no-notice muster,” said Czaplicki. “What’s going to be required? What am I going to have to do beforehand so we’re ready if this happens?

“Talking with the different commanders from different walks of life, from different components, from different branches – they get to see how others are approaching problems differently. That level of communication and coordination in a protected, controlled setting leads to a lot more open conversation and a lot more learning happening.” 

The CERFP is capable of providing support to first responders and civilian authorities after a chemical, biological or nuclear incident. The team includes both Army and Air National Guard units from Richmond, Petersburg, West Point, Rocky Mount and Langley Air Force Base, as well as Airmen from the Washington, D.C. National Guard. The team is capable of conducting tasks including consequence management, incident site communications, urban search and rescue, mass causality decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and stabilization and human remains recovery.

The CERFP is unique in that it is a task force that includes elements from multiple different units rather than one specific unit:

  • Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Richmond-based Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia provide command and control and incident management.
  • Soldiers assigned to the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company serve as a mass casualty decontamination element.
  • Soldiers from the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company operate as the search and extraction element.
  • Airmen assigned to the 192nd Medical Group stationed at Langley Air Force Base provide the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element.
  • Airmen assigned to the 192nd Cyber Operations Squadron at Langley Air Force Based provide communications capability using the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, or JISCC.
  • Airmen assigned to the Washington, D.C. National Guard’s 113th Force Support Squadron operate as a fatality search and recovery team.

If an incident requiring CERFP support occurs, Soldiers and Airmen are alerted through the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center and mobilized on state active duty. If the incident is located within Virginia they would proceed to the incident site and fall under the control of the incident commander. If the incident is located outside of Virginia, Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia would coordinate with the receiving state under the terms agreed to in the Emergency Mutual Aid Compact.

Virginia’s 34th CERFP was authorized in June 2006. There are currently 27 CERFP teams available nationwide with three in FEMA Region 3 in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

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