HATTIESBURG, Miss. – In order to help prepare the University of Southern Mississippi and the Hattiesburg area for a radiological threat, the Mississippi National Guard participated with local, state and federal agencies in an exercise at the college on Jan. 17 and 18.
The exercise centered on preparing for an incident and then responding to the threat of a radiological attack on the college’s M.M. Roberts Stadium. The Mississippi Department of Health provided harmless live samples of a radioactive isotope and hid them at several locations in the stadium. First responders were tasked with locating and identifying the threat as well as safe removal.
The 47th Civil Support Team, the Flowood-based response team for emergencies or terrorist events that involve weapons of mass destruction or toxic industrial chemicals, assisted the agencies during the exercise by providing initial advice on prevention and agent determination as well as leading first responders through the detection assessment process.
“The relationship that we build with local first responders and security at these sporting venues is critical. When they need somebody and they have an issue, it’s better to have learned upfront, when there’s no pressure and no stress, than in a situation,” said Capt. Heath Morgigno, operations officer for the CST.
Building those relationships was a main focus of the exercise, said Daniel Ward, director of training and integrated systems for USM’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), which hosted the event.
“For us, we haven’t had a lot of exposure to the National Guard and their capabilities so it’s extremely important for us to work with them to learn and understand what capabilities they bring and how they can help us in enhancing our overall preparedness,” Ward said. “We’re exercising our community response capabilities to a radiological incident. It’s something that hasn’t been exercised or discussed often enough in the sports safety security industry.”
NCS4 was established by USM in 2006 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack and the Department of Homeland Security’s identification of sports venues as soft targets for subsequent attacks. Its goal is to address the evolving security challenges of the U.S. sports industry through innovative research, quality training, and enhanced professional development.
“We’ve been planning for things such as bomb detection and active shooter, but today we added that radiation aspect and it taught me so much of what I need to do to take our plan even further – the contacts I need to make, what I need to do in planning for early detection and prevention and what to do if we find some type of radiation isotope,” said Rusty Keyes, commander of detectives for the USM Police Department. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 28 years and I probably learned more today than I have in the last five.”
Participants also included the Hattiesburg Fire Department, Forrest County Emergency Management Center, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.