Straight out of ‘sci-fi’

Exercise focuses on WMD material

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Iola Firefighter Mike Aronson pulls on a protective mask before donning a “spacesuit” during an exercise here Tuesday afternoon.

Iola firefighter Mike Aronson, outfitted in a protective suit fit for a sci-fi movie, searched a dining area in Iola’s National Guard Armory for low-level radiological material Tuesday afternoon. Before Aronson and Pvt. Claude Williams and Sgt. Patrick Gordon of the Kansas National Guard’s 73rd Civil Support Team were permitted to don the suits, their vital signs were checked to make sure they were physically prepared for the task.
In addition to the search for radiological materials, local responders worked with CST personnel to determine the extent of injuries in a “man down” situation.
The exercises, involving elements of weapons of mass destruction, were staged by the CST for Iola firefighters and Allen County Emergency Medical Service personnel in and near the armory. The training was arranged by Jason Nelson, Allen County EMS director, in cooperation with Iola Fire Chief Don Leapheart, and will conclude today.

THE TOPEKA-based Civil Support Team — an outgrowth of Homeland Security — is one of 55 in the nation and contains 22 personnel, all full-time guardsmen, with a wide array of high-tech equipment ready to respond at a moment’s notice to a biological, chemical or radiological disaster.
“We’re trained to mitigate any of them,” said Maj. Scott Chew, deputy commander of the 73rd. “We can deal with meth labs and anything else within the scope of our mission that poses a danger to people.”
The unit is dispatched on orders from the governor, but if an incident occurs, Chew said they immediately begin preparations for deployment while orders work their way through the chain of command.
“The minute we get the word, we’re out the door,” Chew said.
The 73rd brings with it several pieces of sophisticated equipment.
One is a mobile laboratory that provides quick analysis of any suspect materials that emergency responders encounter. They also use hand-held devices to make on-the-spot determinations of the danger levels of such materials.
A mobile command post boasts monitors that receive video feeds of on-the-ground activities. A medical van is used both to treat victims and prep responders. A mobile communications truck with portable dishes for satellite contact and a small van, also loaded with communications equipment, keep the unit in touch with authorities anywhere on the face of the earth.
Chew pointed out that computerized devices permit transmission of sensitive and classified information without fear of interception. Such communications capabilities are important when disasters like the Greensburg tornado occur, Chew said.
“We can be there quickly and provide communications with the outside world when it otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” he said.