National Guard team trains against terrorism at Marshall
HUNTINGTON — Although a military operation was visible along 4th Avenue in Huntington on Tuesday, citizens were never in harm’s way as the West Virginia National Guard’s 35th Civil Support Team underwent annual training at Marshall University.
The team is a 22-member specialized guard unit filled by full-time West Virginian Army and Air Force members who are the front lines of defense against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. On Tuesday, the phony threat was based in the Marshall University Forensic House, located in the 1500 block of 5th Avenue in Huntington.
The training occurs in a different spot throughout the state each year, and evaluations are done every 18 months.
The CST members set up several military vehicles, fire trucks and the Cabell County Sheriff’s Mobile Incident Post
at a Marshall University parking lot in the 1500 block of 4th Avenue, behind the forensic house, all day Tuesday, which caused passers-by to do a double take.
Tuesday’s training scenario involved international dignitaries from around the world coming to the crime-scene house for a seminar. When more than a couple dozen people died, local health officials noticed a trend that all the victims had met days ago at the facility. The CST was then called in to find out what caused the deaths and clear the building of hazards.
The first group approached the house in biohazard suits Tuesday morning, checking the outside of the house for radiation and other chemical readings before entering the home and locating biohazard materials on the second floor of the home. The men took their time searching each room prior to locating the cause of the fake deaths, just like they would in a real-life situation.
Jay Norris, Midwest division chief, has the job of evaluating civil support teams nationwide and acts as a mentor through the mock experiences.
“They will actually take a sample of it and package it and bring it to one of the vehicles that has a laboratory inside of it,” he said. “They will analyze what they found and talk to the incident commander about what the hazards are, what can be done about it and how to treat the sick people and some ideas about how to clean it up.”
The Huntington Fire Department assisted with water for the decontamination unit and the Cabell County Sheriff and Emergency Response teams were also on hand. Maj. Gina Nicholas, commander of the 35th Civil Support Team, said the unity is important.
“Our whole job is to support civilian authorities and response agencies,” she said. “This is very common. We try to meet with local emergency planning committees and work with all the local law enforcement and fire departments regularly so that we have those relationships in place.”
The CST can’t even be dispatched to the location of an incident until local authorities request help, she said.
Norris said they like to train in a different environment each year — last year it was held at the Snowshoe Mountain ski resort — and Marshall’s forensic program had the perfect facility to host it.
The training also had its perks for Marshall’s forensic science students, who got to witness the training firsthand with a guide who educated them on what was happening as crews hunted down the hazardous material.
Catherine Rushton, assistant professor and director of the forensic science program, was elated with the experience her students gained and said she hopes the facility is used in a similar fashion in the future.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.