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Bilirakis, Castor Team Up to Save Clearwater-based 48th CST On Budget Chopping Block
Posted May 17, 2012 by Howard Altman
Updated May 17, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Last fall, the 48th Civil Support Team, a Florida National Guard unit charged with providing assistance should a weapon of mass destruction ever go off here, was officially certified.
One of only 57 in the country and only the second in Florida, the team is one of many military units around the country the Obama administration has suggested by cut as part of an effort to trim about a half trillion dollars out of the Department of Defense budget over the next decade. The administration has also suggested cutting a similar team in Brooklyn, NY.
But two local congress members have come up with a plan they say will save the 48th, a 22-member team based at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
Instead of cutting the teams, Congressman Gus Bilirakis and Congresswoman Kathy Castor have written an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would pay to retain the teams by trimming $5 million from the R&D budget for DOD’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program.
The analysts at the 48th CST are supposed to have a pretty good idea of the potential dangers a situation might pose even before they leave the hangar, Army Lt. Col DeFee told me when I wrote about the team in January.
“They produce an initial hazard model before we leave so we know what we are driving into,” he said. “We have a rough idea of what we are facing and then adapt the model as the situation matures.”
The first thing the team does when it arrives at the scene is report to the incident commander, the civilian emergency first responder in charge of the scene. There, it helps establish communications capabilities if needed. Then the team, often in Level A hazmat suits, fans out and tries to identify the hazards and help contain the area. Then it takes samples and develops what’s called a hazard model — determining the extent of the danger and what response, including roadblocks and evacuations, might be required.
Created in February 2010 and certified in November, the 22-member team is trained to detect weapons of mass destruction — anything from anthrax to explosives — and help local emergency responders figure out what steps to take to ensure public safety.