BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers received an urgent call from the Bismarck Fire Department early Tuesday morning. After a suspected terrorist attack during a rally at the Bismarck Community Bowl, firefighters suspected heightened radiation levels near the blast and requested the skills and capabilities of the North Dakota National Guard’s 81st Civil Support Team. The Bismarck-based unit immediately activated 20 Soldiers, who arrived on the scene to provide critical emergency response support and identify — and safely remove — any potential threats. Thursday, just two days after the first incident, the Guardmembers and firefighters found themselves working side-by-side again. This time the teams convened at the Bismarck Civic Center, where they responded to suspected booby traps at a political rally. This week’s real-world training scenarios gave military and local civilian responders an opportunity to test and refine their ability to react and coordinate efforts.
“The [first] scenario consisted of a car bomb explosion that caused the spread of radioactive contamination,” said Maj. Patrick Flanagan, deputy commander of the 81st CST. “The primary mission consisted of identifying the type and location of the radiation source — to include monitoring of the contaminated debris field. In addition to the explosion that caused the spread of radioactive contamination, the Bismarck Fire Department collected a suspicious package that had been delivered to the College which was then analyzed in the 81st CST's Mobile Analytical Laboratory.”
Thursday's evaluation consisted of a suspected terrorist event, possibly initiated by a militia group, which exposed a large number of civilians to unknown, illness-causing substances at the Civic Center.
“We coordinated with the fire department to conduct a detailed reconnaissance of the Civic Center,” Flanagan said. “Several dispersion devices were located throughout the Civic Center and samples of the unknown substances were collected and analyzed.”
Another purpose of the joint agency exercise was to evaluate the proficiency of the 81st CST as a unit. Members of U.S. Army North Civil Support Readiness Group were in Bismarck to ensure that the 81st CST Soldiers are fully trained and qualified to respond to an event under the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Enhanced Conventional Weapons (CBRNE) classification.
“The training proficiency evaluation was highly successful and showed that the 81st CST works efficiently and effectively as a team and with first responders, to accomplish a highly complex mission,” Flanagan said.
“We were there to assist with the CST’s evaluation—playing the part of local first responders,” said Dean Meyer, Deputy Chief of the Bismarck Fire Department. “Even though they were being evaluated, it was a good opportunity for us to train and test our own capabilities.”
While the firefighters and Soldiers were aware of the week’s impending evaluation, they were not privy to the specific details of the drills. Times, locations and the threats they would be facing came as a surprise to those involved. In both of the week’s scenarios, local firefighters were the first responders to arrive on the scene.
“Our guys weren’t aware of what they were going to see,” Meyer said. “At the Civic Center, the guys found a number of suspected booby traps that were dispersing a white powder.”
“To ensure public safety, our guys evacuated civilians and cordoned off the areas that may have been hazardous,” Meyer said. “We called in the CST, who arrived to test the substances being released by the suspected devices, so everyone could take the appropriate precautions.”
While the Bismarck Fire Department has access to the capabilities of a regional hazmat team, Meyer said they train with the 81st CST on occasion and they often rely on the knowledge and resources of the unit.
“For several years, the 81st CST has conducted training with local first responders in cities throughout the state,” said Flanagan. “Working closely with the first responder community has allowed the 81st to develop close working relationships that continue to grow and improve through joint training events and meetings. The skills that first responders bring to events and training are vital to the success of the 81st CST and our ultimate goal and mission of assisting them in any manner we are trained to.”
“Anytime we get an opportunity to do something like this, it’s good training,” Meyer said. “Anytime we can interact with the CST — it’s always valuable.”
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,900 Soldiers and 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. About 70 percent of all members serving today have joined since that time. Currently, more than 125 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while about 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that’s more than four times the national average.