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ISU, INL host disaster response training for Oregon, Idaho National Guard

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POCATELLO — More than a dozen men and women dressed in radiation suits converged on a building that, until 2020, had been a warehouse serving the Idaho State University diesel tech program.

Those men and women, representing the Idaho and Oregon National Guard Civil Support Teams (CST), underwent disaster response training Wednesday afternoon at ISU’s Disaster Response Complex.

The training put the teams through different mass-casualty scenarios, including what Mustafa Mashal called a “dirty bomb” response.

ISU disaster training bus scanned for radiation
CST team members scan a bus for radiation levels using a Geiger counter. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Mashal, an associate professor in ISU’s civil and environmental engineering department, said CST teams are trained to respond to all types of manmade and natural disasters, to “control the situation and, at the same time, provide the assistance to civilians.”

“Their mission is to save life and property during events that can affect many people,” Mashal told EastIdahoNews.com.

ISU disaster training Geiger counter
CST team members scan a mannequin for potential radiation exposure using a Geiger counter. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

This particular training exercise is part of a week-long training program led by the Idaho National Laboratory Homeland Security group. Similar training exercises are run through INL 15 to 20 times per year, according to INL spokeswoman Michelle Farrell.

“We have a program that works with the National Guard Bureau CST teams,” she said. “We run them through this training throughout the year.”

The training is standard. What is unique is the site.

According to Mashal, the Idaho National Guard has not conducted a similar training exercise on the ISU campus in over 50 years.

ISU disaster training bus
An intentionally damaged bus and a mannequin, prepared for one of Wednesday’s training exercises. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

The building, now serving as the university’s Disaster Response Complex, was originally constructed in 1939, Mashal explained, with the purpose of serving the National Guard in mind. But in 1970, the facility was taken over for diesel tech classes.

Then, in 2020, it was vacated. The civil engineering department was prepared for the change and has spent the last four years developing a training facility that will bring events like Wednesday’s back to the campus.

Katie Hogarth, a graduate student in civil engineering department, has been part of that entire process.

“We first came up with the idea with INL and in 2017 we started developing concepts,” she told EastIdahoNews.com.

ISU disaster training; responder removes radiation suit
Members of the CST team continue to check a mannequin while other remove their radiation suits. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Standing in the facility, watching trainers and trainees work through different scenarios, Hogarth was proud of the work she and her colleagues have completed. But she was also excited about the opportunity.

Earlier this week, she said, she met a woman who assisted in the response to massive floods in the 1960s. The woman told Hogarth that members of the National Guard and area first responders sandbagged the city while working out of the same building that now houses the Disaster Response Complex.

The complex is more than 25,000-square feet, around 75 yards long and wide enough to mimic a two-lane road with space on either side.

“We can constantly change (the layout) to do different scenarios and different mock situations, and train different levels of emergency response,” said Jared Cantrell, ISU Disaster Response Complex Project Manager.

The simulated city block includes false storefronts and, for Wednesday’s training, a bus damaged — in a controlled environment — to mimic an explosion.

ISU disaster training body transfer
CST team members transport the mannequin from location of the incident to their safe zone. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Both Mashal and Cantrell are hopeful that the complex will see constant training exercises similar to Wednesday’s. Both brought up the facility’s usefulness as it pertains to training programs for police and fire units.

“We’re very blessed to see today, the U.S. flag is hanging again (in here) and the National Guard utilizing the facility,” Mashal said.

ISU Disaster training
The inside of the ISU Disaster Response Complex. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

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