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Bill Harlan

There wasn?t really a ?disturbing odor? emanating from the Yates Education and Outreach Building on Thursday, but there really were helicopters in the Yates parking lot.

The fictional aroma was part of a cooperative exercise scenario designed for the Sanford Lab?s Emergency Response Team (ERT) and the South Dakota National Guard?s 82nd Civil Support Team (CST).

Our own ERT responded first. Team members donned Dr?ger BG4 closed-circuit breathing apparatuses and checked out the source of the alleged gas. They discovered the threats, which were opened unmarked bottles containing unknown substances. ERT Coordinator Woody Hover said team members are trained to recognize threats that require either outside expertise or
additional equipment. That?s what they discovered, so they called for backup. 

About 20 minutes later, two Black Hawk helicopters arrived from Ellsworth Air Force Base. (Ellsworth is just over 34 air miles from the Sanford Lab.) The Black Hawks landed in the Yates parking lot, and 10 CST personnel quickly unloaded equipment. Then two team members donned full Hazmat suits before entering and searching the Yates Education building.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Alex Raber said the exercise tested his unit?s ?rapid response package.? The CST advance team has a specific mission. ?They can get here and have idea of what we are dealing with before the rest of our assets are on site,? Raber said. For example, the team took photos inside the building, which they transmitted to team members outside. The 82nd CST includes members of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.

The Sanford Lab ERT, which includes Sanford Lab staff and local emergency responders, trains every month, testing equipment and running exercise scenarios.

Local media also were invited to observe the exercise, which was reported statewide.