Daly City councilman receives training for how to handle nuclear disaster 

Mike Guingona is a Daly City councilman who also serves as a second lieutenant in the California State Military Reserve. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • submitted photo
  • Mike Guingona is a Daly City councilman who also serves as a second lieutenant in the California State Military Reserve.
If California experiences a nuclear emergency, Daly City City Councilman Mike Guingona might be among the military personnel responding to the crisis.

A second lieutenant in the California State Military Reserve, Guingona recently traveled with his unit to the Nevada desert, where he received disaster training at a site formerly used for aboveground nuclear weapons tests.

The CSMR is under the command of the governor and used as a force multiplier for the California National Guard. While primarily tasked with peacekeeping, security and disaster response within California, the president does have authority to mobilize the CSMR and deploy its troops outside the state during emergencies. The CSMR was among the agencies that provided aid in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

Guingona, who was 52 when he enlisted in 2013, said that of the military agencies he was interested in joining, the CSMR was the only one whose age requirements would not exclude him.

Guingona and the other members of CSMR Second Special Battalion Regional Support Command North journeyed to the Nevada National Security Site for their nuclear response training. Formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, the Department of Energy reservation is about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and the elevated radiation levels found in the area are due to the 100 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted during the Cold War.

Reservists were trained alongside police officers, SWAT operators and firefighters during the four-day class. Protective gear worn by trainees included dosimeters that measured how much radiation they were exposed to, and they carried radiation detectors that enabled them to locate the “hot spots” in the mock city where their drills were conducted.

Guingona said a typical exercise involved carrying out a search-and-rescue operation inside a dark, smoke-filled building where dummies represented disaster victims and were tagged so as to tell the trainees how injured or sick they were, along with their level of radiation exposure. Learning to make hard choices about triage and personal safety are paramount in the training, Guingona said, explaining that responders must be prepared to make judgment calls as to whether or how to attempt any given rescue.

“You’re asking yourself: ‘Are the readings in here low enough to justify dosing ourselves in order to get the person out? If there’s this amount of radiation and the guy’s not ambulatory, what’s the best thing to do?’” Guingona said. “And while this is going on, you’ve got an instructor behind you saying, ‘Your dosimeter’s going off! Do you think you should be this close to that hot spot?’”

Offered under the Center for Radiological Nuclear Training’s Counter-Terrorism Operations Support program, the training is designed to prepare participants for a variety of possible emergencies, including those in which terrorists might employ a “dirty bomb” that uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material, or even an improvised nuclear device that produces a nuclear explosion.

But Guingona downplayed what some might see as the sensational aspects of the subject, noting that the training was also relevant to non-terror scenarios. One example he cited was the possibility of a rollover or collision involving a truck transporting the nuclear material used in imaging devices for the health care industry.

Guingona said he’s interested in learning how well the various public safety agencies in San Mateo County are prepared for a nuclear emergency, and Hillsborough Police Capt. Doug Davis recently reached out to him to discuss the weapons-of-mass-destruction training that county SWAT operators receive in the Terrorism Counter Assault Team he commands.

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