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Washington Homeland Response Force Passes Evaluation

1 Lt. William Crandell (left) and Senior Airman Anthony Ahn from the 141st Medical Squadron prepare stretchers for patient transport during the HRF evaluation. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Ennamorato)

1 Lt. William Crandell (left) and Senior Airman Anthony Ahn from the 141st Medical Squadron prepare stretchers for patient transport during the HRF evaluation. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Ennamorato)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- They converged on the Spokane Fairgrounds and the Spokane Fire Training Center, to be the second Homeland Response Force (HRF) in the nation to be evaluated.

Washington State provides the HRF for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 10, consisting of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The HRF provides command and control for Washington's CBRNE (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear or High-Yield Explosive) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP).

Oregon's CERFP, which will validate next spring, could join Washington's or other states' CERFPs, which would respond within 6 to 12 hours to a CBRNE event, said Chief Master Sgt. Wendi Mclean, 141st Medical Group.

The HRF consists of approximately 566 citizen-soldiers and airmen from across the state that make up the command and control, search and rescue, decontamination, medical triage and security elements.
The HRF responds to the call from the governor, president or other state and national command authorities to augment local jurisdictions and other emergency responders during state, regional and Summer national emergencies.

The certification required Guard members to respond to a simulated CBRNE event and deploy the decontamination and medical tents, begin processing the injured and ready the search and extraction teams for entry into the contaminated area, within 90 minutes.

The 141 MDG provided the majority of the medical team, the 141st Civil Engineering Squadron conducted search and extraction while members from the 141st Security Forces Squadron provided security at the HRF command and control location.

The first day, Monday, of the external evaluation was spent conducting training and practice drills and the tempo increased throughout the week, culminating in the graded evaluation that started for the HRF command and control element on Thursday around 3 p.m. and continued with 24-hour operations, bringing in the CERFP element early Friday morning.

In this scenario three events occurred: The first at 8 a.m. at the Memorial Arena, the second at 8:15 a.m. at the Convention Center in Spokane and the third at 8:20 a.m. in a clandestine laboratory near Gonzaga University. The first two were mass casualty events simulating about 50,000 people that were killed, wounded or contaminated.

"The HRF also brings with it a security element in case there's need for additional people to do search and extraction or if they're unruly citizens that we need to guide to the decontamination lines," said Army Lt. Col. Dave Patsiga, J3 Operations Officer for the Washington HRF.

"If there is an area in a collapsed structure that needs to be removed so we can find victims we'll go in and use cutting torches, saws, jackhammers and other tools to remove the obstacle," said Staff Sgt. Craig Minnihan, a breaching and breaking team leader with the 141st CES. "We're evaluated on safety with the chemical contamination and the way we perform our breach operation."

The HRF is another example of the reputation the 141st has for getting things done, according to McLean. The 141st and 194th have provided a substantial portion of the CERFP for many years. The future goal is to have 27 CERFPs, ten of which will be attached to the HRF in each FEMA region.

"The American public needs to know that if there is a terrorist or nuclear event the National Guard has the ability to respond, save lives and mitigate property loss," said Col. Michael C. Hirst, vice commander of the 141st ARW and HRF Deputy Commander. "The significance of the August EXEVAL can't be overstated. It validates our ability to conduct that mission and demonstrates (that ability) to the nation."