National Guard personnel take samples during a simulated hazardous-chemical spill at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station. The National Guard is the front line of defense against chemical and biological attacks in the United States.

Isles’ anti-terror team
gets federal approval

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Hawaii has a new team of specialists today who have been training for two years for an event they hope will never occur -- a chemical, nuclear or biological terrorist attack.

The Department of Defense announced this morning the certification of the Hawaii National Guard's 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, who has followed the progress of Hawaii's team over the past two years, said he was impressed with its "professionalism and dedication."

"I applaud Hawaii's team for its efforts to work with state, local, and federal officials to ensure that Hawaii is well-prepared to deal with the threat associated with weapons of mass destruction."

Commanded by Lt. Col. Ed Toy, the mission of the National Guard unit is to assess the scope and severity of a terrorist attack by sampling suspected contaminants, then advising civil authorities on how to deal with the threat.

The unit is made up of 21 counterterrorism specialists who run at least 20 miles a week and must spend at least one hour a week working in special decontamination suits, where the temperature can be as much as 20 degrees hotter than outside the suits.

It is the 27th state team certified since the program was initiated six years ago. The Hawaii team was among the 17 that were formed in the second phase at a cost of $3.5 million for each team.

In 1996, Congress passed the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, which mandated increased domestic preparedness against terrorist attacks, especially those involving chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. It authorized the creation of 32 teams.

The following year, the Pentagon integrated the National Guard with the effort, giving states control of the teams. That offset some questions about the military performing police duties, which would violate federal law.

The genesis of Toy's team stems from the 1990s. Between 1993 and 1995 the World Trade Center in New York City was bombed, killing six and injuring more than 1,000; in Japan a religious sect released sarin nerve gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12 and injuring 5,500; and in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal government building, killing 168 and injuring hundreds.

The first of the new National Guard teams began their training in 1998. National Guard units were chosen because they are in every state and are controlled by local officials.

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