Sunday, March 2, 2008

National Guard Team Plays Key Role in Ricin Response

A National Guard civil support team was on scene within an hour last night after Las Vegas authorities sought help with a suspicious substance that later turned out to be deadly ricin.

The incident happened at an Extended Stay America hotel on Valley View Boulevard in west Las Vegas, said Army Capt. April Conway, the Nevada National Guard's public affairs officer.

The Nevada National Guard's 92nd Civil Support Team provided support with identifying the suspicious substance and assisting with decontamination, Conway said.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department asked for support from the Nevada National Guard's 92nd CST about 5 p.m. Within 30 minutes, a 19-member team and half a dozen vehicles from the 92nd CST were out the door, and they were on scene less than 60 minutes from the initial request, Conway said.

The vehicles provide communications, laboratory and other on-scene support for the team.

"They worked in conjunction with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Clark County fire and hazardous materials teams to collect samples and analyze samples on site," Conway said. "Initial tests came back indicating that the substance that they were testing was ricin. More samples were sent to the Nevada public health laboratory for additional testing."

Because CST members regularly train side by side with civilian responders, they already know each other and don't have to exchange business cards during a crisis, Conway said.

"The role of the Nevada National Guard in this incident was very significant," Conway said. "We work very well with Las Vegas Metro police and very well with other Clark County first responders. They have a very good relationship, and it's very easy for our folks to go in there and be of use."

The Nevada National Guard's CST is one of 52 certified units nationwide mandated by Congress to support local and state authorities at domestic incidents by identifying agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences and advising on response measures, Conway said.

CSTs can respond rapidly to assist local first responders in determining the nature of an attack and to provide medical and technical advice. They provide initial advice on what agents may be present and assist first responders in the detection and assessment process.

They generally are the first military responders on the ground.

"They can test air; they can test water; they can test powder substances and help first responders right off the bat know (that), 'Hey this might be a more dangerous situation than you initially thought.' That's really the asset that the CST brings to the table," Conway said.

The 95th CST of California and that state's chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosive response force package also stood by in case additional assistance was needed, Conway and National Guard Bureau officials said.

Author Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Rotherham contributed to this report.
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