Small Wars Journal

The CBRN Response Enterprise in the Homeland

Wed, 08/01/2012 - 8:13pm

Since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Department of Defense (DoD) has worked tirelessly to prevent, and if necessary, rapidly respond to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) incident in the United States. 

In the wake of the 1993 bombing, Presidential Decision Directive 39 approved the creation of the Army National Guard’s  Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs).  These 22-person teams, postured in every State and Territory, can respond to a CBRN incident within three hours, identify CBRN materials, assess the consequences of a CBRN incident, and advise civil authorities on appropriate response measures.  

But by the mid to late nineties, it became obvious that such a catastrophic incident would require a more comprehensive response from the DoD.  Thus, the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Amendment 4349 was introduced, creating two additional response elements: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERFPs) and Joint Task Force - Civil Support (JTF-CS).

CERFPs can locate and extract victims from a contaminated environment, perform mass patient decontamination, and provide medical treatment as necessary to stabilize patients for evacuation.  Each of the nation’s 17 CERFPs are comprised of approximately 186 members of the Army National Guard, and can respond to an incident within six hours. 

JTF-CS is an active duty joint headquarters whose primary mission is to provide command and control for DoD forces responding to a catastrophic event. During a CBRN incident, JTF-CS has the ability to respond with the Defense CBRN Response Force (DCRF), comprised of approximately 5200 personnel from all four services, which can respond within 24 to 48 hours.

Shortly thereafter, the 2010 National Defense Appropriations Act gave the DoD an even greater role in CBRN response, authorizing Homeland Response Forces (HRFs).  There are currently 10 HRFs collocated in each of the ten FEMA regions throughout the United States. Each HRF consists of approximately 566 Army National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, and can perform all of the functions of a CERFP, plus provide additional security and command and control capabilities.   HRFs can respond to an incident within 12 hours.

The DoD also established two separate Command and Control CBRN Response Elements (C2CRE).  Each C2CRE is comprised of approximately 1500 personnel. These elements provide life saving capability and are prepared to reinforce existing operations or provide support to a separate incident. They include members from the Total Force - Active, Reserve, and National Guard.

In total, there are approximately 18,000 DoD members assigned to 57 CSTs, 17 CERFPs, 10 HRFs, two C2CREs, and the DCRF, prepared to respond to a domestic CBRN incident.  Altogether, these organizations make up the DoDs CBRN Response Enterprise (CRE).

It is important to understand that the CSTs, CERFPs and HRFs are Title 32, National Guard organizations working in support of their respective state Governors, while the DCRF and C2CREs are employed in a Title 10, Active Duty status working for US Northern Command, which in turn, supports a larger Federal response.

As with all combatant commands, US Northern Command exercises command and control over several service component commands, and has designated its Army component, US Army North (USARNORTH), to oversee the CRE, and to provide a headquarters for one of the two C2CREs.

USARNORTH uses its Contingency Command Post as the headquarters for C2CRE(A) and works in collaboration with the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the various States’ Adjutant Generals to help train and validate the NG assets that reside in the CRE.

On behalf of NORTHCOM, USARNORTH also works with each of the services to ensure forces dedicated to the CRE participate in an annual joint exercise known as Vibrant Response.  Held every year at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, Vibrant Response validates the DoD’s CRE, working closely in support of our Federal, State, and Local partners.  The results of the exercise help to refine the CRE in both structure and capability. In fact, over the past two decades the CRE has grown in size, name and capability all in pursuit of creating the most effective organization capable of responding to a domestic CBRN incident.

But of course, there will always be room for improvement: USNORTHCOM is in the process of conducting an assessment of the current CRE.  ARNORTH, along with its National Guard partners are ensuring all aspects of the assessment are complete and accurate.

This blog series is intended to generate discourse and provide a greater understanding of the CRE. We are especially interested in your comments and concerns.  Please do let us know what you’re thinking in the comment section!  



Tue, 08/07/2012 - 9:18am

Mr. Gander thanks for your service to our country and your comments reference my post on the CBRN Response Enterprise (CRE). The Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force CBIRF is a great organization and one of its Incident Response Forces (IRF) is included as a part of the Defense CBRN Response Force (DCRF) mentioned in my blog entry.

Rest assured prevention of a CBRN event in the homeland is of the utmost importance and top priority of both the DoD and its Federal partners. Though prevention is preferable, diligent planning for a catastrophic event would not be complete without addressing a successfully executed CBRN event. Thus DoD preparedness is an insurance policy. Not only against the most dangerous of events but also in supporting our interagency partners should their capacity become overwhelmed.

Understand, units supporting the CBRN enterprise maintain their warfighting skills. In fact, this training enhances those skills by educating all levels of command on multiple national catastrophic response plans. Historically, the DoD has participated and supported our interagency partners in various national disaster responses. Given the benefit of this historical perspective our units must train to their most likely and most dangerous events possible both abroad and within the US.

It makes sense to use these assets instead of duplicating their capabilities in another government agency. Like you, I hope we never employ these assets for a CBRN event but in the most unlikely of circumstances the DoD is ready for the call.

Thanks again and I hope you have a great day!

Jack Gander

Wed, 08/01/2012 - 8:34pm

DoD should focus on WMD prevention and Counter WMD programs and leave the response and recovery missions to DHS and state and locals. Your analysis indicates a lot resources being committed to a very, very low probability threat and the consequences aren’t as severe as those in the business tend to project. (I worked on WMD programs at DHS and DIA and I know the canned response is “it’s not a matter of if but when...”)

You forgot to include the Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force in your assessment. The have been a significant player in this mission space since 1996.