34th CST, Virginia State Police team up for training exercise

  • Published
  • By Mike Vrabel
  • Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airman assigned to the Fort Barfoot-based 34th Civil Support Team, along with Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation bomb technicians, conducted a training exercise March 19-21, 2024, at the Blackstone Readiness Center in Blackstone, Virginia. 

The mission of the 34th CST is to support civil authorities in a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive incident, and the evaluated tasks included deploying the team, establishing communications and medical support, conducting survey, technical decontamination and analytical functions as well as conducting interagency coordination.

During the training, CST and VSP elements worked together to identify possible explosives hazards while maintaining crime scene integrity, helping the two agencies better mesh with each other. 

“The focus of training this week was the integration of the 34th CST with the Virginia State Police BCI bomb technicians, said Lt. Col. Thomas Mecadon, commander of the 34th CST. “The ability of these two agencies to understand each other’s processes and procedures on approaching an incident is crucial for interoperability and support. This training was focused on achieving a shared understanding prior to a real-world event.”

While many of the CST’s training events are focused on chemical, biological or radiological hazards and threats, the team trains on explosive threats annually, according to the team’s commander. 

“Due to our mission, the possibility to encounter an explosive combined with a CBRN agent is likely,” said Mecadon. “The benefits of training with VSP bomb technicians and other bomb tech agencies allows us to better prepare for a response and learn how we complement each other.”

Training included reconnaissance surveys, including CST and VSP team members, on a suspected explosive threat. The teams also trained on a simulated “man down” scenario, giving the entire CST realistic training on procedures to evacuate and decontaminate a fallen colleague. The second full-scale exercise focused on a radiation threat. 

Integrating the VSP into the training event presented challenges for the CST, especially pertaining to each agency understanding each others’ capabilities as well as tactics, techniques and procedures, helping better prepare them in the event of a real-world joint mission. 

Despite the challenges, Mecadon said the training was a success, noting the CST’s survey team performed in an exemplary manner. 

“The integration of the two teams on day one was flawless,” said Mecadon. “The downrange operation of the VSP technician with 34th CST members allowed both agencies to identify potential explosive hazards and precursors for production. Day two focused on radiation and a wide scale search of an area with strong samples that masked each other and presented a challenge to our survey team. The survey team was able to fight through this relying on previous lessons and techniques learned to pinpoint and identify the exact location and isotopes present.”

The 34th CST is divided into six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical/analytical and survey. Each team member completes between 500 and 900 hours of specialized training during their first year of assignment and continues advanced training throughout their tenure with multiple agencies including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the National Fire Academy, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The team’s primary response area includes a 300-mile radius from its home station at Fort Barfoot and stretches as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as South Carolina. They maintain personnel on standby at all times, can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification and the main body deploys within three hours.

The unit’s assigned transportation includes a command vehicle, operations trailer, a communications vehicle called the unified command suite which provides a broad spectrum of secure communications capabilities, an analytical laboratory system vehicle containing a full suite of analysis equipment to support the complete characterization of an unknown hazard and several general purpose vehicles. The CST normally deploys using its assigned vehicles, but it can be airlifted as required.

Read more about the 34th CST at https://ngpa.us/23991