558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Members of the 102nd CST team go through the exercise at the Crook County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, as they analyze soil samples.
Prineville hosted more than 15 agencies Tuesday and Wednesday for an emergency training exercise.
The event was initiated by the Oregon National Guard, 102nd Civil Support Team (CST), as a joint training exercise in Prineville. The CST team trained with multiple federal, state, and local agencies in a predetermined scenario, which was designed to test (CST’s) their ability to respond to potential Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) threats. The exercise also supported essential interagency coordination and partnered with first responders. The 102nd CST is made up of 22 members, and their sole purpose is to plan and train with first responders for an impending disaster.
In the scenario that transpired over the two days, perpetrator, Ricardo Gallardo is sought after by authorities for possession of materials intended to harm students and residents at Southwest Oregon Community College in Coos Bay, Ore. He has vanished from the public, but has refined a biological agent and has used it against a homeless victim, bearing evidence of his capability to harm on a small scale. He has now left a message with law enforcement threatening to use it on a large scale, by targeting the Crook County Fairgrounds during a rodeo event. He was a former student of S.W. Oregon Community College as a fire science student. He was also a probationary firefighter with the Coos Bay Fire Department, until he was arrested for DUII and possession of a controlled substance. He targeted Prineville because his former Fire Chief was from Prineville, and the fairgrounds was where he decided to disperse the agent to harm Gibson and his family, and as many other victims as possible.
Several days prior, Gallardo has activated the agent, which affected as many as 2,000 people at the event at the fairgrounds.
Members of the CST emphasized on Tuesday that the other agencies are not assessed on the exercise, only the 102nd CST. They are evaluated once every 18 months. 102nd CST Commander Wyatt Welch said that the exercise doesn’t cost the community anything, except any manpower needed while conducting the event.
“The most important thing is, we are staffed and ready 24/7 and 365, and we don’t come with any price tag,” said Welch. “We have already been paid for, so if an incident commander decides that he or she might need us, all they have to do is call.”
Throughout the exercise, there were members of several different organizations out and about in uniform, and as the events of the two days unfolded, units could be seen around town from the Central Oregon Emergency?Response Team (CERT), the Hazardous Materials (HazMat) team, and the trailer set up for the mobile emergency operation center at the Prineville Police Department.
The mobile emergency operation center is a high-end converted trailer that provides local first responders with the ability to command and control a large, complex incident. It is stationed in Portland, Ore., and it provides them with work stations, computers, cameras, and significant communications tools and capabilities. They have access to satellite technology for phones and cameras.
“We can communicate worldwide with it,” noted Prineville Police Department Chief Eric Bush.
He said that it can be a standalone unit or be plugged into another emergency operation center to compliment it, which is how it was used during the recent scenario.
Although Bush is a Brigadier General of the Oregon National Guard, he served as Police Chief for the scenario on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was apparent during the exercise, however, that his experience and expertise from both roles was an asset in many ways.
The “victims” of the activated agent by Gallardo at the fairgrounds began to present to Pioneer Memorial Hospital on Tuesday morning, with symptoms that ranged from mild to severe. With the illnesses showing consistency with the dispersed agent, the State response protocol was activated, and the Crook County Health Department notified the State of the situation. They soon received an “Anonymous” call from Gallardo, stating that the casualties were not accidental. The State requested the activation of HazMat 13 and 102nd CST for support and to survey the threat of potential biological dispersal at the fairgrounds.
The 102nd CST was joined by the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), Bravo Division, as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the HazMat 13, and CERT. Locally, first responders included Crook County Fire and Rescue, Crook County Sheriff’s Office, Crook County Police Department, Crook County Health Department, and Pioneer Memorial Hospital staff.
Cory Grogan, Public Information Officer for Oregon Emergency Management and Public Affairs, Oregon National Guard, said that in an emergency response situation, having practical exercises and practice is very important.
“Communication is the key, and so it’s great to see all these agencies out here, there are more than 15,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s great to see them working together, to be able to communicate and know that they are going to be on the same page. Hopefully nothing ever happens, but if it does, people in the Crook County and Prineville area will feel more secure, because there is a plan in place and there are people who are professionals and are able to do something about it.”
Grogan added that the participation from the community was some of the best that they have seen in similar exercises.
At approximately noon on?Wednesday, law enforcement received a report of gunshots fired at the Prineville Freight Depot, at 3480 N.W. Bus Evans Road. Upon their initial assessment, Gallardo was discovered to be holding three hostages in an abandoned building at the rail yard.
At 1 p.m., officers established negotiations to gain release of hostages under Gallardo’s control, but he threatened further biological (and chemical injuries). Negotiations were unsuccessful and Gallardo was neutralized as a threat (by sniper), but not until he shot a CERT member in the head (non-lethal) and wounded two of his three hostages. Inside the facility, chemicals were discovered, but were found to be non-lethal.
The training, which is designed to be very close to a real event, reinforced the reason why such exercises are so important in preparing for possible threats. The scenario on Wednesday changed twice from the original plan. The various players were forced to make changes and think on their feet very quickly. On Tuesday, some things didn’t go as planned at the Pioneer Memorial Hospital, as well.
Lisa Goodman, spokesperson for St. Charles Medical System, responded that they had a few issues with the scenario at the hospital.
“I think there was some miscommunication in regards to the instructions that were given to the drill participants,” said Goodman. “We had a number of volunteers show up at the hospital, and these were the people who were supposed to be playing the role of the patient. They did not identify themselves as drill participants, so they were actually treated in the emergency room. We ended up having to call off the drill because of that. We were concerned that going forward, we might have other drill participants showing up not identifying themselves as such, and so for safety reasons, we decided to discontinue our participation in the drill.”
Crook County Undersheriff John Gautney served as an incident commander for day two, where Gallardo took hostages at the freight depot. He pointed out that there is a huge amount of coordination in a scenario like the current one, in bringing all the agencies and manpower together who don’t normally work together.
He indicated that he served as an incident commander in a real world scenario in an officer-involved shooting situation in Deschutes County several years ago. Gautney was a lieutenant in the Bend Police Department at the time.
“It’s a very complicated situation, especially in an officer-involved shooting, which this has resulted in an officer-involved shooting, now,” said Gautney. “There are so many different areas that you have to follow up on.”
Also included as part of the 102nd CST resources is a mobile laboratory. Captain Richard Hosmer, Nuclear Medical Science Officer for 102nd CST, maintains the mobile laboratory with his coworker TSgt Ryan Siggins, and they safely process samples inside the vehicle to identify chemicals, radiological, biological, nuclear, and others.
“Anything, we can most likely analyze and identify on site,” said Hosmer.
The lab was used in the scenario when Gallardo was supposed to disperse a “dirty bomb.”
Dave Dethman, who has been the Emergency Manager for Crook County for two years, commented Wednesday afternoon, “I think it has gone really well, as far as a joint exercise. I think for the most part, it worked really well.”
“This is a real good opportunity. We would have never had this without the Oregon National Guard CST and USARNORTH (U.S. Army North),” he added. “It’s a good learning experience, not only for law enforcement, the health department, hospital, and CCFR, but also for me, being fairly new in emergency management.”
Gautney concluded that the reason the training is so valuable is because in a real life situation, they don’t want to be caught without having any idea where they are going.
“If you do these scenarios and training, then you have a better idea of what you are going to do in real life,” he said.