Biological detection team trains to keep Andersen AFB safe

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Benjamin Wiseman
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
"Out of sight; out of mind," is never the policy of the 36th Medical Group lab detection team, who work year-round to ensure Airmen here are always prepared in case of a biological attack or a medical epidemic.

The 36th MDG lab technicians take proficiency exams to stay current on training for biological attacks or a medical epidemic. The proficiency test examines; not only the technician, but the entire detection process.

Every lab technician is required to take a hands-on test and a written test for identifying agents. Each quarter, the lab technicians rotate to take the proficiency test. This ensures everyone in the laboratory is able to identify and process biological agents.

"This process is not like riding a bicycle or tying your shoe. It is not that simple," said Maj. Philip Bossart, 36th MDG Diagnostic and Therapeutic Flight commander. "If we don't practice this process, a critical step might get forgotten or the wrong agent might be identified. A mistake would impact the base's mission, its people and possibly the local community. This is why we train as seriously as we do."

The testing process starts with unidentified biological agents being sent from the Biological Defense Research Directorate at Naval Medical Research Center in Frederick, Md., to Andersen where lab technicians screen and identify the unknown agent.

"Luckily, the 36th MDG lab hasn't encountered a real world situation here," said Major Bossart. "But because of their training, we will be ready."

With a recently acquired extraction kit, the bio-detection team can now identify a wide variety of biological agents and contaminates. The new kit allows them to rapidly identify the agent and give base leadership more time to respond in case of a medical epidemic or attack.

"We process the biological agents through our Joint Biological Agent Identification and Diagnostic System which allows us to test for several agents at once instead of one-by-one," said. Tech. Sgt. Anthony Lowman, 36th MDG biological detection team chief. "Since we can test multiple agents at once, we usually can identify it in two to four hours. We then give base leadership the results, and they determine the course of action depending on the agent present."

Denatured biological agents are used during the proficiency tests. These agents are safe to the user and the public ,but still the team takes every precaution as if they were real.

"All agents are tested in a geographically separated containment area from the medical group and has its own contained ventilation system," said Lowman. "This way the base is safe from any samples we may be testing."

The biological detection teams advise Airmen to refrain from handling any possible biological agents.

"If you come upon a possible biological agent, whether it is white powder or something else, don't collect a sample or bring it to the medical facility," said Maj. Bossart. "Keep away, secure the surrounding area and call 911. Our emergency response professionals are trained to handle these types of hazards."