By Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer, 182nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 14, 2016
PEORIA, Ill. -- A dirty bomb detonated in Chicago, taking down a large building full of occupants. Hazardous material saturated the disaster site as local first responders attempted to rescue survivors. The city's resources and manpower were exhausted after one day, but help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency wouldn't arrive for another 24 hours. Authorities requested aid. The governor activated the Illinois National Guard CERFP to respond and boots were on the ground within hours.
Although a hypothetical example, a catastrophe in Chicago is the type of mass-casualty event that the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package was created to deal with and one that Airmen with the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria could be activated for.
"[CERFP] was designed after 9/11 and [Hurricane] Katrina specifically to respond domestically to anything like the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an earthquake like in southern Illinois," said Air Force Maj. Justin Short, the medical operations officer for the 182nd Medical Group CERFP medical detachment.
The capability allows National Guardsmen to bridge the 24-to-72-hour gap after an event occurs, when city and county assets are stretched thin and federal assistance is still on its way. The result illustrates the Air National Guard's goal of being the first choice for homeland operations.
It begins with typical process of a National Guard state activation.
"During an emergency, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency assesses needs and matches those needs with the capabilities of state agencies, including the Illinois National Guard," said Army Lt. Col. Bradford Leighton, the public affairs director for the Illinois National Guard. "IEMA then requests that the governor activate the National Guard. The governor then orders the National Guard to state active duty."
Once activated, the CERFP provides an Army and Air National Guard joint-force unit consisting of search and extraction, decontamination, medical, fatalities search and rescue elements, and Joint Incident Site Communications Capability command and control. Peoria's ANG wing provides three capabilities to the CERFP.
The 182nd Medical Group's role delivers a 47-person medical element capable of operating in a contaminated environment. Its job is to triage victims, treat injuries and track patients - ultimately preparing casualties for a transfer to a medical facility.
While Army provides search and extraction for living causalities, the 182nd Force Support Squadron's 11-person Fatality Search and Recovery Team brings the ability to remove deceased victims.
"We work hand-in-hand with the local coroner or medical examiner, so - depending on which county we're in - whatever they want with the fatalities or the remains, they dictate us what to do," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Corey Walker, the NCO in charge of the FSRT.
Finally, the 264th Combat Communication Squadron ties the CERFP together by providing communications capabilities with its JISCC.
The CERFP's ultimate goal is to be able to arrive quickly and be efficient enough to leave quickly, said Short.
"And it's a combination of the incident commander's objectives being met and when a federal response, those federal resources, come in," said Short.
The ANG response, mostly made of traditional guardsmen, is committed to a 6-hour response time to depart the base once the activation order is received. The team then has another six hours to be on-scene and fully operational.
The CERFP does not always operate in an emergency-response status, however. Sometimes the teams post in an incognito standby status for high-visibility events.
"Anything that's dubbed a national special security event by the Secret Service, one of the CERFP teams is close by," said Short. "If we're actually deployed in a standby status, we're definitely behind the scenes."
The NATO summit hosted in Chicago May 20 and 21, 2012, is an example of when the 182nd Medical Group CERFP detachment deployed as a precaution. As protestors clashed with police and world leaders discussed policy, Peoria's medical detachment stood by in the suburbs awaiting potential disaster. While they waited, they conducted hands-on training with civilian counterparts.
Peoria's response capability is not only limited to Illinois.
There are 17 operational CERFPs located within FEMA's 10 regions. The CERFP Peoria supports falls under Region 5 consisting of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, but is also able to assist other regions as well.
They can even travel globally, as in the case of Illinois' counterpart in the National Guard State Partnership Program. Peoria Airmen visited Poland in 2012 to help the country's CERFP equivalent prepare for the UEFA Euro soccer championship games.
"The CERFP brings a tremendous capability to not only the FEMA region but to the state and nation, and we're glad to have those folks onboard," said Col. William Robertson, the commander of the 182nd Airlift Wing. "[They're] top-quality, top-notch that will provide a great service."
Whether it is a terrorist attack, natural disaster or domestic emergency, the CERFP exists as an example of the National Guard's continued commitment to be always ready and always there.