January 31, 2013

Schumer, Gillibrand, Tonko Urge DOD & National Guard to Protect Terror Response Teams in New York, Including Stratton Air Base Team in Schenectady County

Recent Legislation Permanently Authorized Additional Terror Response Teams in New York

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Paul Tonko today called on the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Guard to do everything in its power to retain the two Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs) located in New York, including one team at the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia. WMD-CSTs provide rapid support to civil authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat.

Although the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permanently authorized the additional WMD-CST’s for New York, DOD and the National Guard recently began preparations to stand down one of New York’s teams, the other located at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. Schumer, Gillibrand and Tonko today urged DOD and the National Guard not to stand down one of the New York locations as it would disregard clear congressional direction and possibly put New York at risk for potential terror threats.

“It makes absolutely no sense to disarm and weaken New York State by eliminating a major terror response team,” said Senator Schumer. “We must do everything we can to protect New Yorkers and make sure they are prepared in the event of a potential terror threat. Stratton Air Base is a perfect location to ensure the protection of both Upstate and New York City and I urge the Department of Defense to suspend action to make non-operational any Civil Support Teams.”

“New York remains a top terrorist target and we must continue to be vigilant in investing federal resources to protect our state and the nation,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is critical that we preserve New York’s two terrorism emergency task forces to help keep us safe.”

“The unique assets and vulnerabilities of New York necessitate two WMD-CST teams on the ground here to keep our communities safe,” said Congressman Paul Tonko. “I was proud to co-lead the charge in the House to retain these critical teams and ensure Upstate has access to their capabilities locally. Protecting New Yorkers and keeping our country safe are at the forefront of the mission of the CST in Scotia. I commend their good work, and will fight to ensure it continues.”

The National Guard has weapons of mass destruction civil support teams around the country to address WMD foreign or domestic threats, such as chemical and biological weapons. Because of the risk New York State faces, and the size of the state, there are currently two teams, so if one is needed, the other one remains available to address threats in other parts of the state. Florida and California also each field a second team. Schumer emphasized that the initial WMD-CST at Scotia was established in 2000 and responded to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. That team nobly withstood significant organizational hardship following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Schumer also highlighted that the addition of the 24th WMD-CST gave the New York National Guard the capability to immediately respond to threats in New York City, and surrounding downstate areas such as West Point.

 

The New York National Guard runs the Civil Support Team at the Stratton Air National Guard Base. New York National Guard’s initial CST has 22 trained full time guard members on duty protecting both Upstate and Downstate New York. These units help detect and identify chemical, biological, nuclear and other explosive devices and assists local agencies and first responders such as police, fire and other departments during emergencies and terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

 

The FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permanently authorized the additional WMD-CST’s for both New York and Florida, and both the House and Senate defense appropriations bills and the current continuing resolution sustain the funding necessary to support these teams.

 

Schumer, Gillibrand and Tonko today urged the DOD and National Guard to protect the WMD-CSTs located in New York City, as they face possible closure. In their letter, Schumer, Gillibrand and Tonko recognized that DOD faces the difficult challenge of balancing cuts while redefining security strategy, however, the elimination of a WMD-CST would save a very small amount of authorized and appropriated funding.

 

A copy of their letter can be found below:

Dear Secretary Panetta and General Grass:

We write to express our shared concern about potential action that would stand down Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs) in New York and Florida. This action would needlessly jeopardize our ability to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats – a risk that is particularly alarming considering that one New York WMD CST is located in New York City, America’s prime terrorist target; and one Florida CST is protecting the Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters.  We urge you to ensure that no such action is taken.

The FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permanently authorized the additional WMD-CST’s for both New York and Florida, and both the House and Senate defense appropriations bills and the current continuing resolution sustain the funding necessary to support these teams. However, it appears that there are preparations in place to stand down and make non-operational one WMD-CST in each of our states.  Such an action, if taken, would disregard clear congressional direction.

WMD-CSTs are highly trained units consisting of 22 full-time National Guardsmen.  These teams provide rapid support to civil authorities and local incident commanders by determining the nature and extent of a WMD attack, technical advice, and recommendations for follow-on response forces.  Stationing of WMD-CSTs is based on proximity to cities and events of national interest, related response time, existing facilities, and minimizing potential overlap with other supporting agencies.   The training and certification timeline of a single team typically exceeds one year.  Simply stated, they are the subject matter experts in the state for WMD response and the cornerstone of the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enterprise.

As you know, while each state and territory is currently assigned one WMD-CST, New York, Florida, and California are assigned two because of threat concerns.  The 2nd New York WMD-CST is located at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, and the 24th WMD-CST at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. The two Florida teams are 48th WMD-CST in Clearwater, and the 44th WMD-CST at Camp Blanding.

One WMD-CST simply cannot effectively cover New York’s large area and population.  The initial WMD-CST at Scotia was stood up in 2000 and responded to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. That team shouldered a tremendous operational burden following those attacks, and the addition of the 24th WMD-CST gave the New York National Guard the capability to immediately respond to threats in New York City, the most attacked city in our nation, and surrounding downstate areas such as West Point. Accordingly, both teams have been instrumental in contingency preparations for most high profile activities throughout New York ranging from sporting to holiday to political events.  They have also responded to numerous crisis situations while maintaining effective reinforcing capability to mitigate other emerging threats.

Florida’s second WMD-CST was stood up in 2008 to support Florida’s integrated homeland security response structure and strategy. The 48th CST plays a crucial role in the protection of Florida, which is home to three combatant commands, fourteen deepwater seaports, three nuclear power plants, and many of the nation’s largest tourism venues. Geographically, one CST cannot effectively cover an operational area of more than 880 miles from the panhandle to the keys. In light of the threats against our nation, and recognizing Florida’s population and size, it is imperative that Florida retain both existing CSTs.

We can all agree that the Department of Defense faces the difficult challenge of balancing cuts while redefining our security strategy.   However, in the area of domestic response, the proposed elimination of these two WMD-CSTs poses tremendous risk, and would save a very small amount of authorized and appropriated funding.

We urge you to acknowledge the authorizations passed as part of the FY2013 NDAA on this matter, and to protect the capabilities these assets provide by suspending action to make non-operational any WMD-CSTs currently authorized and appropriated by law.

 Sincerely,

 

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Michael Grimm, Congressman Paul Tonko, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio,  Congressman C.W. Bill Young