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NEWS | April 17, 2016

Va. National Guard special response force conducts exercise

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

More than 180 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, as well as members of the Virginia Defense Force, conducted a simulation exercise April 16, 2016, in Richmond, Virginia, to test the unit’s capabilities to assist in the emergency response for a simulated structure collapse and chemical spill. The CERFP (pronounced “surf-p”) performs tasks associated with consequence management, urban search and rescue, mass causality decontamination, medical triage and stabilization and human remains recovery.

“We met all of the training goals and then some as we head towards more advanced types of training that we need to give to our CERFP team,” said Lt. Col. Colin Noyes, commander of the CERFP. “Instilling confidence in our CERFP makes us more relevant and prepared to save lives.”

One of the challenges for the organization is the fact that all the units have a primary mission like engineer operations, medical support or chemical decontamination, and they are brought together to form the CERFP and provide it’s specialized capabilities. The unit’s mission is to provide immediate response capability to the Governor for searching an incident site that might include damaged and collapsed buildings, rescuing any casualties, decontaminating them and performing medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize them for transport to a medical facility. The CERFP is unique in that it is a task force that includes elements from several different units rather than one specific unit. This task force leverages the strengths and capabilities of these different elements to accomplish the mission.

“As a group, we only meet twice a year and establishing a realistic event maximizes their time,” Noyes said. “With the exercises in DC this past February and this one, we have prepared our Soldiers and Airmen so we can save lives either here in the Commonwealth or anywhere we are told to go.”

The CERFP last conducted an exercise during Sovereign Guardian 2016 with members of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Service Department Feb. 24, 2016, at the Washington D.C. Fire & EMS Training Academy in Washington, D.C. Read more about the exercise here:

“Our staff did an outstanding job planning this exercise,” Noyes said. “We wanted to present new types of injuries and new situations to our team. The realism set by the role players enabled the Soldiers and Airman to deal with many different types of emergency situations like dealing with missing limbs to emotional distress of a mother who lost her child.”

During the exercise, the CERFP conducted eight technical extractions and decontaminated and medically treated more than 200 simulated casualties.

The exercise strengthened the relationship the CERFP has with Henrico County area first responders. Three members of the Henrico County Fire Department assisted with the exercise and provide subject matter expertise.

“We have developed a solid relationship with the Henrico County Fire and EMS,” Noyes said. “In fact, they have invited our Search and Extraction team to train with them. Our SE team is constantly increasing their capabilities and establishing confidence in themselves and in the localities. If we ever deploy for real we have developed those important relationships that enable us to be injected into their operations where ever needed.”

The exercise also provided the opportunity to work with the Virginia State Police with eight troopers providing support for a simulate tactical deployment from Fort Pickett to Henrico County training location.

In addition to the CERFP, personnel from the Virginia Defense Force were on hand with their mobile communication platform trailer, which provides communication capabilities over several different types of networks, both digital and analog. The VDF is an all-volunteer force authorized by the Code of Virginia and organized under the Virginia Department of Military Affairs reporting to the Adjutant General of Virginia.

“This was the first time we have incorporated the VDF into our exercises,” Noyes said. “We learned how relevant they are to our needs for a communications unit that can bridge the gap between any of our capabilities to our Joint Force Headquarters when needed. We will always welcome the VDF into our operations in the future, and I appreciate their professionalism.”

The VDF met a significant communications capability gap that the CERFP was unable to organically fill, explained Capt. Andrew Czaplicki, operations officer for the CERP.

“As part of the simulation, the CERFP lost the ability to communicate with outside agencies due to equipment failure, and the VDF deployed a Mobile Communication Platform to the incident site to assist with communications,” he said. “They conducted a cross banding mission which took our communications and messages over our internal radio frequencies and then transmitted them to the Joint Operations Center over a high-band frequency. Their support was critical to the success of this operation, and they flawlessly executed this mission and performed in an outstanding manner.”

The units making up Virginia’s CERFP include:

– The command and control element from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion (approximately 16 personnel).
– The mass casualty decontamination element from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company (approximately 75 personnel).
– The search and extraction element from West Point-based 237th Engineer Company (approximately 50 personnel).
– The medical triage and stabilization element from the 192d Medical Group, Virginia Air National Guard stationed at Langley Air Force Base (approximately 45 personnel).
– The fatality search and recovery team from the 113th Flight Services Squadron from the DC National Guard. (approximately 11 personnel – not participating in this exercise)

If an incident occurs requiring CERFP support, Soldiers and Airmen are alerted through the Virginia Guard 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, the Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia would coordinate with the receiving state under the terms agreed to in the Emergency Mutual Aid Compact. There are currently 17 CERFP teams available nationwide and three within FEMA Region 3: Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

View photos from the exercise on Flickr:

The CERFP was recommended for validation after being assessed as fully trained on 19 of 23 total major tasks, needing practice on four tasks and having no untrained tasks by an external evaluation held May 15, 2015, at the Virginia Beach Fire and EMS Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va. Read more:

Members of the Virginia Defense Force conducted a 24-hour communications exercise March 4-5, 2016, in multiple locations across Virginia. Operating in their Mobile Communications Platform trailers in Richmond, Winchester, Lynchburg and Pulaski, VDF members used high frequency radios as well as other systems for voice and data communications to communicate with civilian amateur radio operators. The 24-hour exercise was designed to test the VDF’s ability to conduct continuous operations in the event of incident that degrades normal communications capabilities.

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