CERF team plays critical role in installation safety

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kristina Overton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Biological warfare, or germ warfare, is the use of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria or other disease-causing biological agents intended to kill, incapacitate or seriously impair a person, group of people or even an entire population. Though measures, such as agreements, have been formed to avoid devastating occurrences such a bio-warfare, there have been instances where we, as a nation, have been reminded of that very real issue.

One of the most recent is the 2001 anthrax attacks, where letters containing anthrax powder infected and killed several people in the United States. After the outbreak, people became more cautious about suspicious substances and unidentified packages. It was also that 2001 attack that spurred the creation of the CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or Explosive) Emergency Response Force here at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

"By November, we were getting calls from off-base agencies to respond to white substance threats," said Royce Shipley, Base Emergency manager. "At that time, when it came to CBRNE detection capability, we were it. We were getting called day and night, so much so that we needed someone to be on call all the time. People were on standby for CBRNE response. Recognizing the increasing need, we began to put together the response team, and we've been doing it ever since."

The CERF team has responded to numerous off-base emergencies to include a response to the Great Falls Red Cross Blood Bank for a mercury spill. Had the team not responded as quickly as they did, the Red Cross would have lost the entire blood supply, which was one-third of all the reserved blood in Montana.

The CERF team possesses the only mercury detector in the entire state.

The team is made up of base Bioenvironmental staff and members of the Readiness and Emergency Management flight, or CEX. The two groups train and respond as an integrated team to protect Malmstrom and off-base agencies from potential biological threats.

"CEX and Bioenvironmental have very similar response capabilities that end up building off of each other," said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Smith, 341st Civil Engineer Squadron Emergency Management non-commissioned officer in charge. "Emergency Management tends to have a more wartime response perspective, while Bioenvironmental tends to have more of a medical or occupational safety response perspective. This allows us to look at the same response from a few different angles at once and better understand what is actually going on."

With both sides contributing vital services, the team is able to use their collaborative skills to mitigate through hazards and provide the best protection.

CEX is composed of two parts, the readiness side which handles deployment preparation for the CES and the Emergency Management side who handle the wing EM program, training and response missions.

"The best way to sum up EM, in the words of Mr. Shipley, 'We try to convince the installation to prepare for a disaster that they believe will never happen,'" Sergeant Smith said. "The part people know us for is the CBRN training that we provide to all personnel deploying or PSCing to medium or high threat areas. We maintain the capability to respond to any hazard. This can range from CBRN agents to hazardous material spills. Through our highly specialized training and equipment, we have the capability to detect, identify, collect samples and provide guidance on hazard mitigation for almost any vulnerability we encounter."

They also provide Air Force Incident Management System training to the wing, train the Logistics Readiness Squadron decontamination team to respond to nuclear weapons incidents, develop and maintain the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, the Emergency Operations Center and the Readiness Support team.

Bioenvironmental's main function is to conduct Health Risk Assessments for all industrial shops and emergency responses.

"We conduct HRA's by identifying the hazard through our use of in-house equipment (chemical, biological, radiological, etc)," said Master Sgt. Todd Beal, 341st Medical Operations Squadron Bioenvironmental non-commissioned officer in charge. "After quantifying how much of the hazard is present, we determine the proper protective measures for the affected workers or base populace. This could include protective equipment, worker rotations, sheltering in place or time distance shielding for radiation."

Bioenvironmental also ensures the base complies with all federal, state and local laws involving drinking water by conducting monthly water supply tests; acts as the Office of Primary Responsibility for the Installation Radiation Safety Program; is the OPR for all protective equipment; and the approval authority for all chemicals coming onto the installation.

"The CERF team deals with both high and low tech equipment ranging from air packs, respirators, and air and radiological sampling equipment to level A suits and half a million dollar-detection devices," said Maj. Aaron Weaver, 341st MDOS Aerospace Medicine flight commander.

The use of all of the team's equipment is to be able to identify any chemical, biological or radiological warfare agents or substances, provide protective measures and equipment as needed for the installation, and determine quickly and effectively the best response procedure for any possible scenario, including Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health situations.

"It takes a lot of guts to go into an IDLH environment," Major Weaver said. "It's imperative to our mission to be able to rely on the people we respond with, our teammates, which is why the CERF team's co-training is so essential. We need to know that in real life situations, we can rely on each other's capabilities and be able to trust the different individuals who are tasked."

It becomes more and more apparent living and working on a missile base what is truly capable of happening in today's society. When it comes to preventive measures, the CERF team works to reassure not only the installation, but the state, that should a biological incident occur, they are more than equipped, trained and ready to respond.