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When Disaster Strikes

It’s a typical Wednesday at work. You take a morning break to grab a coffee and a quick stretch. As you take a sip from your cup and gaze out the window, there on the lawn you see men, in military fatigues, wearing gas masks, talking to a crowd of calm onlookers.  

This was the scene for many employees who work in the Northern Light Health Cianchette building in Brewer. On September 5, the 11th Weapons of Mass Destruction – Civil Support Team, a unit of the Maine National Guard, based in Waterville, was onsite for the Northeastern Maine Regional Healthcare Coalition monthly meeting where they held a decontamination demonstration.

IMG_1904-(1).JPGThe Civil Support Team is always on standby and ready to mobilize its considerable resources anywhere across the state should there be any natural or man-made disaster, terrorist attack, or weapon of mass destruction incident.

“This is what we call a rad pager which we use to detect radiation, specifically alpha radiation,” explained Lieutenant Joshua Way as he holds up a small black hand-held device that is making a series of clicking sounds.

The Northeastern Maine Regional Coalition is a group of healthcare organizations including hospitals, rural health clinics, emergency medical service providers, municipal health departments, county emergency management agencies, American Red Cross chapters, and school nurses. Its task is to develop a coordinated response to any sort of chemical, biological, radiologic, nuclear, and/or explosive event. The Civil Support Team is equipped to assist with those exact types of incidents.

“They are a valuable resource to us in terms of the highly-trained personnel they can provide, the equipment they have at their disposal, and their ability to deploy resources quickly,” explained Kathy Knight, BSN, RN, CHEC II, director of the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center.

Lt. Way delivered a PowerPoint presentation to explain the role and capabilities of the Civil Support Team, which he says can help with everything from communications, rapid identification of dangerous agents, computer modeling for plumes, and decontamination.

IMG_1938.JPGFollowing the presentation, Lt. Way and and Staff Sergeant Andrew Jensen set up a decontamination tent behind the Northern Light Health Home Office to provide a demonstration of their capabilities. 

“When we come in, we have two lanes of approach,” explained SSG. Jensen. “We have our emergency lane for a non-ambulatory casualty and this is for everyone else who can get through on their own.”

The lane for those who cannot walk on their own has a series of steel sections and rollers to slide a person across the tent through various stages of the decontamination process from removal of contaminated clothing to scrubbing procedures.

On the other side is a series of tubs that people would stand in to go through the same process of detecting dangerous agents, removing contaminated clothing, and getting scrubbed.

“It was fascinating to see the very methodical approach they have in assisting with these scenarios and I think members of the coalition were impressed with what they saw,” explained Kathy.

The Civil Support Team was equipped with several different hand-held devices that could detect everything from gases to different types of radiation, and nerve, blister, and toxic industrial chemicals. The team has done everything from air monitoring during Bangor Waterfront Concerts to aiding Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.

“They are one more tool that we would have at our disposal should we ever need them to assist with any kind of unforeseen disaster,” explained Kathy.