OKLAHOMA CITY –
In a joint effort to enhance emergency response capabilities, the Oklahoma National Guard's 63rd Civil Support Team collaborated with local first responders during a full-scale exercise held in Custer and Washita County and the City of Weatherford, May 23-25, 2023.
The training was designed and controlled by US Army North in order to assess the capabilities of both the first responders as well as the CST, including helping reinforce tactics and relationships between participating agencies for any broad spectrum of potential threats.
One of the scenarios involved a student discovering an unconscious individual and the presence of suspicious laboratories in a dormitory boiler room. Promptly, the student dialed 911, setting off a rapid response from the local fire department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol bomb squad, and the 63rd CST.
"The CST is an all-hazards assessment team that can identify hazards,” said Eric Bodenhausen, exercise specialist with U.S. Army North. “They have their hazmat technicians, their decontamination system, and they come with a communications suite that can link up to pretty much any type of communications.
As the multi-day exercise and various scenarios play out, members of US Army North are evaluating the team and providing feedback once each mission is complete.
“We’ll hold an exercise today with the local first responders, then we'll have an after-action review tomorrow, go over what we did good and what we could improve on,” Bodenhausen said.
According to Bodenhausen, it’s crucial for local communities to know about what assets are available to them, especially during a domestic emergency.
“I think the biggest thing about these exercises is knowledge of what is out there that is provided by the state,” Bodenhausen said.
Part of those assets from the CST include a physician assistant that oversees medical needs of CST members, as well as civilians during an emergency situation.
"My job is to take care of everyone's medical well-being and their medical readiness," said Capt. Luke Russell, physician assistant with the CST. "My job also entails responding to any disaster that may occur during a mission, so if somebody has any kind of injury or illness that they encounter during that process, the medic and I would respond to that."
In a real-world situation, the CST is never the lead agency. Instead, they operate under the guidance of an incident commander within the local community and follow their directives.
For this particular scenario, the incident commander was Weatherford Fire Captain, Capt. Thomas Elkouri, who emphasized the collaborative nature of the exercise.
“It’s great to have all the resources that we have available to us,” Elkouri said. “Together with the [Oklahoma National] Guard and the 63rd, everybody that is [here] is crucial because you have to plan for that worst day.”
The comprehensive exercise provided an invaluable opportunity for all participants to enhance their coordination, communication, and response capabilities. By training together, the Oklahoma National Guard's 63rd CST, local first responders, and other agencies involved can help ensure effective and efficient collaboration in the face of emergencies.