To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Following the anthrax mail attack on the eastern United States in September 2001, emergency response organizations across the country were inundated with “white-powder” incidents. All but a few of the calls, related to the actual anthrax attack on the East Coast, were hoaxes.
Photo By Robert Burke
During training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, AL, an emergency responder in Level C protective clothing uses a flashlight to better view turbidity in a test sample.
Responding to the extremely high number of white-powder incidents taxed the resources of many response organizations. There were so many requests for assistance that the FBI could not respond to all of them; the bureau wanted to be notified only of “credible” incidents. Analytical laboratories that were asked to identify samples from incidents were overwhelmed by the number of requests. Field tests available at the time to test for anthrax spores were unreliable and resulted in many false positives. Lab test equipment that could be used in the field to test for anthrax is very expensive and not available in most areas outside the military.
Personnel at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, AL, saw the need for a better way to deal with white-powder incidents. CDP, a component of the Office for Domestic Preparedness, is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security training center for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is the only emergency responder training center in the world that provides live-agent training using sarin and VX nerve agents. The center opened in 1998 and has trained 186,000 emergency responders through on- and off-campus training opportunities. The facilities are situated on 62 acres at the site of a former Army base, Fort McClellan. Plans are in the works to acquire an additional 23.5 acres at the fort with buildings that will be used for hands-on training. In addition, CDP conducts WMD equipment evaluation using first responders to determine the usefulness of various items on the market. Equipment is obtained from manufacturers and emergency responders assess them under realistic conditions. Responders wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) when appropriate. While I was there, responders were evaluating equipment for carrying non-ambulatory patients out of incident hot zones, through decontamination, and on to triage and treatment.