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CERFPs: A New Resource for Emergency Response

There have been no additional terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since the bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers on 11 September 2001, and for that reason the American people should be grateful. Nonetheless, the threat level remains high, and intelligence sources report that terrorists are continuing to plan new attacks on the U.S. homeland, preferably attacks involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

To prevent such attacks, the nation’s law- enforcement agencies, at all levels of government, and America’s armed forces – specifically including the Guard and Reserve components – are and will continue to remain on high alert.

Meanwhile, the services also have devoted significant additional manpower, funding, and training time to the deterrence of new terrorist attacks and, if deterrence does not always work, to coping with the aftermath – while at the same time fighting the insurgency in Iraq, dealing with smaller-scale terrorist incidents in Afghanistan, and carrying out all of their other missions.

One result is that, despite the generous additional funding requested by the president and provided by Congress, the U.S. military is today still stretched perilously thin. Prudence dictates, therefore, that additional increases, in both manpower and capabilities, be authorized to provide a broader margin of safety against new terrorist attacks – which, counterterrorism experts warn, without exaggeration, could come “anywhere, at any time.”

Strategically Positioned Regional Assets

As the first military responder to any major disaster, natural or manmade, on U.S. soil, the National Guard is well positioned to provide the additional resources needed for consequence management in a WMD incident anywhere in the country. The National Guard recently implemented a new homeland-security initiative creating twelve “Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or High Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Packages” – called CERFPs for short. To date, these units have been established in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington.

The CERFPs are not “state” units per se, though, but regional assets geographically distributed to ensure the presence of at least team in each FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) region. The teams are also available to respond to intrastate emergencies via what are called Emergency Management Assistance Compacts.

Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that one of the benefits of implementing the CERFP concept is that it “leverages existing capabilities and skills” instead of creating new units. “These regional assets not only add to the national [WMD] incident preparedness,” he also commented. “Of equal importance, they are deployable, fully available to the combatant commanders.”

Unlike the Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs) previously created – which consist of 22 full-time Active Guard/Reserve program soldiers and airmen – most CERFP members are provided from existing units and are “traditional” or “M-Day” troops with civilian jobs. In addition to meeting the special requirements of the CERFP, team members also carry out traditional training to maintain the combat and other military skills required by their parent units.

Each CERFP consists of approximately 100 to 120 members (drawn from both the Army and the Air National Guard) who are trained and equipped primarily to carry out casualty decontamination, medical triage, and search-and-rescue missions. Most CERFP team members come from civil support and/or patient decontamination teams, medical, engineer, or chemical units, and/or counter-drug aviation assets. Because of their flexible structure, the CERFPs have a robust capacity to incorporate other National Guard assets – e.g., fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and/or transportation, infantry, and military police assets.

Some states – California is a prime example – plan to augment the initial CERFP concept by creating additional teams, using state funding, because only one team per region is funded through the National Guard Bureau. In addition, California has created its own Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) Brigade to train and manage its CERFP teams. According to Colonel John Bernatz, executive officer of the California MACA Brigade, the cost of equipping and maintaining one CERFP team is approximately $2 million, including start-up and annual maintenance costs.

California National Guard leaders say that the state’s size and its attractiveness as a terrorist target make the additional investment well worth the cost. “We live in a new world today,” Bernatz said. “We live in a world where an enemy has brought a war back to our shores.”

Added Value at a Reasonable Cost

In addition to meeting their usual training requirements, CERFP members are required to complete 540 hours of initial training plus a five-week hazardous materials course. Much of that training is provided by civilian emergency-responder programs, at an initial cost of $600,000 per team. Team training is conducted in a phased fashion, and all twelve of the original teams were certified in mass casualty decontamination and medical triage/treatment during fiscal year 2004. The search-and-extraction phase of training and certification for the original 12 teams is expected to be completed during the current fiscal year (FY 2005).

The National Guard CERFP teams are certified either by the 1st U.S. Army (states east of the Mississippi River) or by the 5th U.S. Army (states west of the Mississippi River). To receive certification in triage/treatment and decontamination, the teams must demonstrate their ability to decontaminate and treat at least 60 victims per hour. In recent exercises, several teams have exceeded requirements and processed more than 120 victims per hour.

The ability to carry out triage quickly and effectively is an important factor in determining which individuals actually require decontamination and treatment. During an August 2004 exercise at Camp Blanding (near Jacksonville, Fla.), approximately 3,000 people simulated exposure as a result of terrorist use of Sarin gas and a radioactive isotope at a nearby airport. Not all of the “exposed” victims actually required decontamination or treatment, however.

A Redundancy of Resources in Reserve

In future disasters, including terrorist attacks, on U.S. soil the first responders reaching the disaster site usually will be, as now, civilian fire, medical, and law-enforcement personnel. If and when needed, though, a National Guard WMD-CST also will be deployed to assist the civilian incident commander by providing an assessment of the situation,entification of the agent, and a determination of what additional military resources might be needed if the incident exceeds the WMD-CST’s own capabilities.

CERFPs – which are designed to support civilian authorities in events involving a suspected chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive attack – also might be deployed in situations requiring their special capabilities. Because the CERFPs consist of troops in an M-Day status, however, they usually will require additional time for organization and deployment (the CSTs are in a fulltime status and have a timeline of 4-8 hours in which to respond to an emergency call).

In most potential emergencies requiring CERFP assistance, their deployment will be carried out in accordance with guidelines governing the National Incident Management System, which requires that local emergency managers request military assistance, via the state emergency management agency, from the state governor. If the incident occurs in a state that does not have its “own” CERFP, an “out of state” team would be requested either through a FEMA regional headquarters or an Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

CERFPs also have the capacity to be called to federal active duty (under Title 10, U.S. Code) by the president and assigned to either the U.S. Northern Command or the U.S. Pacific Command. However, unless federalized under Title 10, the CERFPs will operate under the command and control of the state governor, through the state adjutant general, in either a State Active Duty or Title 32 U.S. Code status. Regardless of their status, the CERFP teams will remain under a military chain of command while providing direct support to civilian authorities.

Christopher M. Schnaubelt

Col. Christopher M. Schnaubelt, U.S. Army Reserve, is a principal homeland-security consultant with Serco Inc., and a graduate of the U.S. Army War College who also holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California Santa Barbara; he was called to federal duty during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles and also served on active duty in Iraq in 2004.



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