SPRINGFIELD, IL (02/25/2015)(readMedia)-- MACOMB, Ill. - In the mid-morning hours a freight train carrying chemical agents passes through the sleepy college town of Macomb, Illinois. Without warning, near a railhead, the train derails sending three tanker cars full of potentially harmful sodium cyanide crashing to the earth. This scenario is the backdrop for Western Response 2015, a multi-agency exercise in Macomb, Illinois.

These are the situations the Illinois National Guard's 5th Civil Support Team (CST) trains for. The CST is a specified domestic operations unit comprised of highly trained Soldiers and Airmen that integrates with local authorities to respond to chemical, nuclear, biological, and radiological threats.

The goal for this exercise was to allow local first responders and authorities to establish an operations center and integrate state-level resources into response operations. Though Western Response was a smaller scale exercise involving the Macomb and Galesburg police and fire departments as well as the 5th CST, it was still valuable training.

Maj. Travis Humphrey of Washington, Illinois, 5th CST deputy commander, said he enjoyed the opportunity to work at the smaller scale.

"Typically, we exercise at a much larger level. It's planned and executed at the national level and when we get on scene, we speak to someone who's not usually a local," said Humphrey. "I like this because you get the National Incident Management System experience and you get to talk to the local guys who know the area and give good input on staging and integration."

Normally, local hazardous materials teams would respond to and contain an incident of this scale. The exercise had local first responders containing the incident and the 5th CST conducting decontamination operations.

Sgt. Andrea Boggs, of Springfield, Illinois, 5th CST human resources non-commissioned officer and decontamination team member, said she saw benefit in the exercise as well.

"This is a great exercise to get used to integrating and working with civilian agencies," said Boggs. "It allows us to train with local agencies and it allows them to see what's available to them in a real-world incident."

Maj. Marc Wright, of Peoria, Illinois, 5th CST commander, echoed the comments of his team members.

"Given the scale, it was a great opportunity for training and awareness for the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System and local departments," he said. "While local HAZMAT is fully capable of handling an incident of this magnitude, it's always good for them to get an idea of the state-level assets that are available to them in an incident."