Radiological threat exercise drives multi-agency response

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Miles Wilson
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

At 11:32 a.m. a report is received by the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron that a white Ford Ranger was stolen. The vehicle carried a SPEC-150 radiography exposure device, a piece of equipment that can be used to test welds on pressurized piping, pressure vessels and certain structural welds.


At 4:50 p.m. 379th ESFS members responded to a report of a vehicle running the south gate and successfully stopped it. The vehicle matched the description of the one stolen earlier that day. In the back seat was a brown piece of luggage.


This is the scenario that was briefed to members of the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Emergency Management Flight, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Flight and 379th Expeditionary Medical Group Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight. Together, these groups took part in an exercise that tested their ability to respond to a real-world radiological threat.


“The purpose of this exercise is to bring various emergency responders together to learn the various techniques each uses to ensure a more integrated response in the event of a real incident,” said Tech. Sgt. David Werkema, 379th ECES emergency management NCO in charge. “As emergency responders these Airmen have to be ready to respond to a variety of threats at any time.”


The exercise involved the use of a simulated Radiological Dispersal Device, an explosive designed to spread a radiological isotope. The exercise was based off of a recent event that occurred earlier this year, when a truck with a radiological device containing potentially harmful radioactive material was stolen in Mexico.


Werkema said that this could be a potential threat here in the region. “By working together when there is no real threat, we are better prepared to respond as a unified team when the situation presents itself,” he explained.


After the scenario was dispatched to everyone, the EOD, EM and BIO teams responded to the scene and partnered together to assess what potential threats the suspected package presented. When the threats were evaluated and the appropriate level of personal protective equipment was determined, the EOD team went downrange, stopping at intervals to monitor radiation levels. The levels were simulated, and at about 70 meters from the package the team was receiving increased gamma radiation levels.


The EOD team consulted with the bioenvironmental flight, determining the duration of time that the EOD team could be exposed to the radiation without danger to their health. After the team grabbed their x-ray equipment and a GR-135 radiological isotope identifier, they employed the equipment to determine the isotope they were dealing with and to obtain x-rays of the internal mechanics of the package.



“While we have equipment and a wide breadth of knowledge, EM and bioenvironmental’s specialization allowed us to leverage their skills in determining stay times and protective measures,” said Tech. Sgt. Dustin Turner, 379th ECES EOD team member. “It cut down on time and enabled us to execute our mission with minimal distractions.”


After taking x-rays of the package, the exercise ended. Afterwards, those involved went over plans of action that would have taken place to handle the package and contain the radiological threat, as well as discuss their teamwork and tactics.


“The overarching goal of this exercise is to practice an integrated response effort among the agencies,” said Werkema. “By doing so we can work out miscommunications prior to having to respond to a real incident.”


The exercise lasted for more than four hours, but it allowed the different teams to build an understanding of how the other agencies work, and how they can best interact in the future.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Massengale, 379th ECES EOD craftsman, explained that working with the outside agencies helped to build smoother working operations, and Turner said that this type of exercise allowed for them to see where their capability gaps were able to be covered by others. It also helped them to understand what level of support they could expect if they were to call on other agencies during a real-world contingency.