55th CST and FBI conduct joint training on Prairie Island Indian Community 

In March, the Minnesota National Guard’s 55th Civil Support Team, or CST, conducted a joint field training exercise, or FTX, at the Prairie Island Indian Community with several agencies, including the Minneapolis FBI. 

The scenario began with community members falling ill after a large funeral gathering. Local first responders treating the attendees noticed symptoms consistent with anthrax exposure. 

The PIIC Emergency Management Coordinator immediately notified the Minnesota Department of Health of their findings, setting in motion the activation of the 55th CST and Minneapolis FBI’s Hazardous Evidence Response Team, or HERT.

The 55th CST routinely partners with the FBI in almost every FTX it conducts. According to Army Lt. Col. Allan Hetteen, the 55th CST commander, this partnership is crucial to accomplishing their mission. 

“Since part of our primary mission is to encounter and mitigate the hazards of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), anything that involves WMD also involves the FBI as the primary law enforcement agency,” he said.  

Hetteen believes training with partners offers insight into each other’s tactics and procedures before an emergency or disaster, which can help make future responses more efficient. 

After setting up command centers on Prairie Island, the local agencies conduct an operations sync to update participants on the situation and lay out the mitigation plan. 

The agencies suspect the substance responsible for the outbreak might have originated inside the Prairie Island Community Center. Following the sync, two members of the 55th CST put on hazardous material suits and entered the building to investigate. 

The pair methodically moves from room to room with detection equipment, starting with the gymnasium and then the kitchen. Finally, they reach a utility room in the back of the building, where they notice a suspicious substance. 

Upon emerging from the building, the team stops at a decontamination tent before reporting their discovery. Fifty yards away, the FBI’s HERT team receives a brief as they prepare to inspect the center. 

Diana Freedman, a public affairs specialist with the FBI, believes joint training fosters camaraderie and builds familiarity between participating agencies. 

“This collective experience strengthens bonds and mutual understanding, essential for seamless coordination and effective collaboration during high-pressure situations,” she said. 

Following the brief in the FBI’s command center, two agents put on HAZMAT suits before entering the building. They followed the same route as their Minnesota National Guard counterparts and entered the utility room where the suspicious substance was found.  

The agents meticulously take notes and mark the location of the substance while a group of CST and HERT members observe their every move.  

After the FBI marks the substance, the CST will collect samples of the substance in question for testing. Those samples will be used to determine whether or not its anthrax and then work with agencies to plan the next steps in the response.  

There’s value in conducting exercises with partners like Prairie Island because it builds relationships and dispels misconceptions about the FBI’s role and deployment in situations like this, according to Freeman.

“Collaborating with specific communities also grants the FBI insight into cultural practices and expectations, which are taken into consideration,” she said.

Hetteen noted the FTX was the first conducted at Prairie Island involving the Minnesota National Guard. And while the 55th CST stands ready to assist all communities within the state,   

“We wanted to establish a partnership with the Prairie Island tribe to let them know we are available to help them with any CBRN hazards,” he said.

By Staff Sgt. Bob Brown 

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs 

The Minnesota National Guard’s 55th Civil Support Team, or CST, conducted a joint training exercise with the Minneapolis FBI’s Hazardous Evidence Response Team, or HERT, at the Prairie Island Indian Community in Welch, MN on March 4, 2024.