Looking back at NCT Virtual Civil-Military Response “Mutual Aid in Crisis Response”


NCT Virtual Civil-Military Response “Mutual Aid in Crisis Response” took place on February 17th, hosted by the CBRNe Society on the NCT Virtual platform and in partnership with ADS Inc. and Defense Equipment Company. The event highlighted the importance of cooperation between military and civil authorities during crisis management, from CBRNe incidents, to Hazmat and other large-scale incidents involving Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNe) agents. Mutual aid is now more than ever a crucial element to take into account when elaborating and executing new protocols in national and global incident response.

The virtual conference opened with the remarks of Mr. Ilja Bonsen, Managing Director of IB Consultancy and Ms. Anna Paternnosto, Vice-President of the CBRNe Society. The Chairman of the conference Mr. Michael Balboni, Former Senator and Deputy Secretary of Public Safety for the State of New York, resumed by leading the discussion between the speakers. The first session put together a group of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) including Lt Col Ryan Walsh of the 33rd CST National Guard, BC Dave Sellers of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Mr. Jeff Saunders of Texas A&M Task Force 1, FEMA and BG (Ret.) William King, Former Commander of the US Army 20th CBRNE Command. Topics such as Bio preparedness, as well as new protocols and best practices in emergency response were addressed by this high-level panel of experts.

The speakers started by emphasizing the importance of building partnerships and the establishment of trust. At the time of an incident, you need to know your partners and trust their expertise and intelligence in order to fulfil the mission. Communication and sharing is key, since not all teams have the same capabilities and information. It doesn’t matter whether you operate on a local, state or federal level, or if the mission at hand concerns a CBRN or WMD incident. This has become visible in the last year battling COVID-19, where certain teams had to ‘carry out a number of missions never carried out in the past ten years’, according to Lt Col Walsh. It was also reaffirmed during the inauguration of the POTUS and the events that preceded in the capitol. First responders and all relevant teams need to be ready to adapt and prefer proactivity over reactivity.

Regarding COVID-19, the panel concurred that everyone has skin in the game. BG (Ret.) King emphasized that ‘we cannot expect from the federal government to take care of everything. There is personal responsibility and if each and everyone of the people is not doing the minimum such as wearing a mask, then all our efforts may fail. The public has to be informed and educated into making decisions, otherwise the pandemic cannot be tackled even with the best capabilities available’. SMEs remain crucial in every aspect of mutual aid. They provide technical advice in the execution of an operation and need to be effective and efficient from the bottom to the top level. Everyone involved needs to listen and learn from SMEs and then put that knowledge into action through training in anticipation of an event.

The second session involved Mr. Terrence K. Cloonan, formerly serving at the US Army and CDC/NIOSH, Mr. R. John Vanden Berghe of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Lt Col Matthew Woolums of the WMD-CST Program, BC Timothy Rice of the NY Fire Department and Mr. Michael Collins of the JTF-CS. The speakers reiterated that joint training is of utmost importance, as it helps building relationships and trust on the field. Practice makes perfect but it requires resources as well. Incidents such as the 9/11 attack, the Hudson river plane crash and Hurricane Harvey have shown that no one can achieve the best operational outcome on their own. The largest search and rescue operation in the US with 17,000 airmen and guardsmen from the State of Texas along with 4,000 responders from all over the States were mobilized during the hurricane. Whereas, in Hudson, it became evident that private actors can provide profound assistance.

Technology is a component that concerned all speakers. It can be helpful and harmful at the same time. You don't need WMDs to create a toxic environment. In the field of PPE, and especially masks, technological advance is more crucial than ever, but what also really matters it the way PPE are used and maintained. You can have state of the art technology but still no result if the end user doesn't know how to correctly wear the PPE. In another field, Lt Col Woolums suggested that ‘UAVs with identification sensors can be a game changer on the field both offensively and defensively. But they also pose a threat’.

Ultimately, intelligence collection and sharing is crucial, leading to interagency cooperation. We need to be proactive to avoid being surprised by such incidents and involve actors from every level. The US is the number one country in the world in terms of mutual aid with a large scale of capabilities. During the 2010 Olympics, Canada asked to work with the US in the unlikely event of an incident. In Mr Saunders words: ‘Doing the most good, for the most people, in the least amount of time should be our motto’.

The conference, which was attended by many major industry representatives, was concluded by Ms Tanya Coleman, Supplier Account Manager of ADS Inc. and Mr. Gary Hess, President of Defense Equipment Company.

The conference ended with the closing remarks of Mr. Ilja Bonsen, Mr. Gary Hess, President of Defense Equipment Company, and Ms. Tanya Coleman, Supplier Account Manager at ADS Inc. Parallel to the conference, participants also enjoyed the virtual industry exhibition showcasing innovative technologies and products in the field of CBRNe. The event provided great opportunities to network with the different industry representatives and governmental delegates connecting not only from the USA but also from Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, The Netherlands, and the Philippines among others.

The success of this event proves that the current global COVID-19 crisis makes it all the more important to share knowledge, exchange lessons learned, and foster mutual aid in crisis response.

We would like to sincerely thank all the delegates and speakers for their participation, as well as our sponsors, ADS and Defense Equipment Company who made this event possible! 

We look forward to welcoming you at NCT Virtual USA on March 2-3, 2021!

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