CDP Terrorism Training For Emergency Responders

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In June 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) established a terrorism training center for emergency responders, the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP). CDP's mission is to "Operate a public training center to prepare emergency first responders, emergency management officials and state and local officials to respond to terrorist acts involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear (COBRA), and handle incidents involving hazardous materials."

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Photo Courtesy of Center for Domestic Preparedness
Emergency responders extract a "victim" during live-agent training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness. The center’s WMD Toxic Agent Training Facility is the only site in the country that lets response personnel work in a live-agent environment with Sarin (GB) and VX nerve agents.

Since we last detailed its operations four years ago (Hazmat Studies, "Terrorism Response Training: An Inside Look," September 1999), CDP has made many innovative changes to its training programs and facilities. While CDP began as a part of the Justice Department, it has since been transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security under the Office of Border and Transportation Security. The current curriculum includes resident and field programs that can be tailored to the needs of the hosting organization or community.

As of July 2003, over 34,000 emergency responders from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories have received resident training at the CDP facility. An additional 100,000 responders have been trained through CDP field programs. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the major student population was about 43% firefighters and 32% law enforcement. Since 9/11, the percentages have changed, almost in the opposite direction. The average student is 40 years old with 15 years of on-the-job experience; 57% are trainers. One group that has not had much representation at CDP is dispatchers and 911 operators. CDP would like to see more participation by dispatchers and 911 operators to enhance their capabilities to provide more effective assistance to emergency responders during WMD incidents.

Updated Training

The original Advanced Operations and Operations Incident Command courses have been revised based on input from the emergency response community. Several courses have been developed from the initial two to better meet the needs of response personnel and community leaders.

WMD Technical Emergency Response Training Course (COBRA) is a four-day program designed to provide emergency responders operational level instruction on responding to and operating in a WMD environment. The course covers chemical, ordnance/explosive, biological and radiological/nuclear threats; the current domestic and international terrorist threat; managing a WMD scene; determining the breadth of a WMD incident area; and dealing with the media at a WMD incident. Twenty hours of the training also provides hands-on familiarization with specialized protective clothing and equipment, chemical detection and identification equipment, decontamination, triage, and ordnance/explosive recognition and response. The course ends with a multi-task, hands-on performance-oriented training in the WMD Toxic Agent (COBRA) Training Facility. This course is designed for those emergency responders who have completed WMD awareness level training. This course is not for hazmat technicians.

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Photo by Robert Burke
Students take part in a decontamination evolution in "Responder City, Alabama," a mock community of 20 commercial and residential buildings. The urban training environment allows exercises to be conducted with a level of realism above any most response personnel have been previously exposed.

WMD Hazardous Materials Technician Training Course (HT) is a three-day, in-depth course in the composition, action, identification and decontamination of WMD agents that have the potential for use in a terrorist incident. This course also includes training in the preservation of evidence at a crime scene, an overview of the international and domestic terrorist threat, practical exercises involving WMD detection, identification and protective equipment, and techniques for operating at a WMD terrorist incident. This course culminates with a multi-task, hands-on training exercise in the WMD Toxic Agent (COBRA) Training Facility. Hazmat technicians attending this training must be certified as having met the competencies outlined in OSHA 29 CFR 10910.120 and NFPA 472 for hazmat technicians.

WMD Incident Command Training Course (IC) is three days of in-depth training that takes attendees through the entire spectrum of command of a WMD terrorist event. This course provides instruction on WMD and the incident command system coupled with the federal response, and examines the complexities of operational considerations and actions of command at a WMD incident. The course details pre- and post-incident considerations by incorporating a segment on planning for the response using techniques that let the incident commander:

  • 1. Determine the correct composition of the planning team.
  • 2. Evaluate the threat to the jurisdiction.
  • 3. Identify and prioritize probable targets.
  • 4. Measure required capabilities.
  • 5. Develop a local incident response plan to a WMD terrorist incident.

The course culminates with an eight-hour real-time tabletop exercise using the materials developed in the previous sessions to plan for and command emergency response resources at the incident site.

Emergency responders attending this training must be trained to the competencies outlined in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 and NFPA 472 for incident commanders, and they must have a thorough understanding of the incident command system. Responders in this course do not use the WMD Toxic Agent (COBRA) Training Facility. The WMD Hands-On Training Course (HOT) consists of a two-day advanced program providing hands-on training in personal protective equipment (PPE), advanced sampling and monitoring equipment, evidence collection and preservation, mass-casualty triage, and explosive/ordnance secondary devices and searches. The course concludes with multi-tasking, hands-on, performance- oriented training in the WMD Toxic Agent (COBRA) Training Facility. The WMD HOT course is for responders who have completed the CDP WMD Incident Command Course. Graduates are eligible one year from their initial training date. The HOT course is NOT for hazmat technicians. A prerequisite certificate must be sent with the application.

Under Development

The 16-hour WMD Advanced Hazardous Materials Technician training course, under development, will take qualified hazmat technicians through the complete spectrum of the WMD response. Through the incorporation of the newest technology and techniques, the hazmat technician will have to qualify and quantify the operating environment, detect, identify and quantify the contaminant, and neutralize the hazard. The course will conclude with multi-tasking, hands-on, performance-oriented training in the WMD Toxic Agent (COBRA) Training Facility. Only those hazmat technicians who have completed the CDP, WMD Hazardous Materials Technician Course may attend the advanced course.

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Photo by Robert Burke
Mock-ups of an explosion scene inside a restaurant, complete with simulated victims.

WMD Law Enforcement Protective Measures (LEPM) is a 16-hour training program that is resident delivered and encompasses WMD-related topics and scenario-driven practical exercises for the in-service training of law enforcement officers. The first eight hours of training presents information on terrorist tactics and targeting, related WMD hazards, indicators of terrorism and protective measures taken by law enforcement officers responding to a terrorist WMD incident. The second eight hours of this training program is a train-the-trainer session to assist attendees with the skills necessary to present the LEPM training in their home jurisdictions. This course is for certified/commissioned state and local law enforcement officers and trainers with more than one year's experience. This is not an executive-level course.

WMD Incident Complexities course is totally taught outside CDP. It is designed to be a flexible course with 32 modules that can be tailored to the training needs of local host organizations. For additional information contact the CDP directly.

CDP Instructor Training Certification Course (ITC), under development, will be a five-day course that provides instruction on adult learning theory and practice, job and training task analysis, training risk and hazard analysis, developing learning objectives and lesson plans, communication skills, instruction delivery and delivery media, developing tests and conducting evaluations, and performing after-action reviews. The classroom sections of the training will be supported by practical exercises that require the student to perform and teach tasks associated with WMD techniques, procedures and equipment to support classroom lessons. Upon completion, the student will receive certification from the CDP as a Department of Justice recognized instructor. Applicants must have completed a resident CDP WMD training course. This course was scheduled to be on-line at the end of the summer 2003 and will be delivered as resident and field programs. Also planned is a WMD Specialist course designed for hazmat technicians, but focusing on more classroom training on legal aspects, federal response and other topics.

EAI Corp. contracts with the Justice Department and conducts all training classes at CDP and the field. EAI has assembled an impressive cadre of instructors with strong backgrounds in chemical agents, biological agents, and ordnance through military and federal agencies. Instructors also include emergency response personnel who have taken part in terrorist events, including bombings in New York City, the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and bombings at Olympic Park and other locations near Atlanta. During each training session, subject matter "experts" from across the nation are brought in to conduct short presentations, including some evening sessions. Those experts include FBI technical experts, bomb squad members, biological agent specialists from Fort Detrick, MD, and chemical agent experts from Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, as well as from Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and other locations.

Facilities at CDP that make the training experience unique include "Responder City, Alabama" and the WMD Toxic Agent Training facility. Responder City is a mock community of 20 commercial and residential buildings. Normal-sized city streets complete with fire hydrants weave through the facility. This urban training environment allows exercises to be conducted with a level of realism above what most response personnel have been previously experienced. Equipment for the training exercises include chemical protective clothing, self-contained breathing apparatus, decontamination, detection instruments and other materials needed to mitigate the exercise incidents.

In addition to typical hazmat type functions of a terrorist incident, training time is also devoted to evidence preservation and recovery missions. Realistic evidence is "planted" to give the exercise credibility. The overall format of CDP training provides police with a chance to perform typical fire service functions and firefighters the chance to perform police evidence functions.

Live-Agent Training

The WMD Toxic Agent Training Facility is the only site in the country that lets response personnel work in a live-agent environment with Sarin (GB) and VX nerve agents. International treaties prevent any other such facilities from being constructed in the United States. This opportunity helps responders build confidence in their equipment and reduces fear of the unknown. Safety is stressed throughout the course and particularly during live-agent training. Over 70,000 people, including 20,000 emergency responders and 50,000 military personnel, have gone through the live-agent facility without any training-related incident or injury.

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Photo by Robert Burke
A bomb-making laboratory adds realism to the CDP training evolutions.

The day of the live-agent evolutions response personnel eat a big breakfast. Blood is drawn a minimum of 30 minutes following eating. No smoking or drinking is allowed 30 minutes before the blood draw. Before entry, personnel are screened and evaluated by an on-site doctor and occupational health nurse. Vitals are taken, blood is drawn for a baseline cholinesterase level and eyesight is tested. Fit tests for respirators are conducted with both qualitative and quantitative procedures. Respirators used are military issue M40s with organic vapor charcoal filters. Protective equipment is issued and fitted. Lanx charcoal suits are used and autoclaved after each use for decontamination. Personnel are trained in donning the personnel protective equipment and they dress and undress themselves.

A hands-on exercise is conducted in a non-agent atmosphere for practice. Following a break, responders go into the live-agent facility for the evolutions. A final fit test is conducted with amyl acetate or stannic chloride in insure proper mask fit before entry to the live-agent atmosphere. Several evolutions are conducted involving detection instrumentation, rescue of victims, evidence collection, decontamination and preservation, and others. Each group spends 11/2 to two hours inside the live-agent facility.

Following the evolutions, personnel go through decontamination. After removal of PPE, they shower with cold water as a precaution to keep pores from opening and allowing easy entry for any contaminants that may be present. No bleach is used. Following redressing, 30 minutes later responders receive medical surveillance and 12 hours later have blood redrawn to determine any increases in levels of cholinesterase.

The live-agent building is equipped with TV monitors and agent alarms that are set to go off prior to reaching the IDLH (immediately dangerous to life and health) level for nerve agents. Anticipation of entry into the live-agent area has been described as having a stress level similar to someone jumping out of an airplane with a parachute for the first time.

Registration Process

Application to all CDP courses is handled through a state coordinator, usually a staff person of the state emergency management agency. Priority for attendance is established at the state level and applications are submitted to the state coordinator. CDP attendees must have completed approved WMD awareness-level training.

CDP classes are three to five days in length, excluding the arrival day. The training facility is located in Anniston, AL, at the 45,000-acre former U.S. Army post Fort McClellan. CDP encompasses 114.7 acres with 34 buildings and 778,536 square feet of space. The training facility is 50 minutes east of Birmingham and 90 minutes west of Atlanta.

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Photo Courtesy of Center for Domestic Preparedness
Emergency responders use M-8 detection strips on the live nerve agents Sarin and VX in the WMD Toxic Agent Training Facility.

CDP students are provided with pre-paid electronic airline tickets, onsite lodging and meals, and all training materials free of charge to them or their jurisdictions. The only cost for sending personnel to the CDP is the time they are away from their jobs.

Students fly to Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, where a charter bus takes them to the training facility. Support personnel for CDP are at the airport to assist arriving students in finding the bus and securing their luggage for departure. Upon arrival at Fort McClellan, orientation is conducted by the registrar's office. An overview of the campus and services provided is presented and all required paperwork sent in the information packet is completed and collected. This packet includes medical questionnaire, authorization, and general release and agreement.

Rooms at the facility are comfortable with television, alarm clocks and telephones. A pub is also located on the facility for the relaxation of students when they are not attending training sessions. Truman Gym, owned by the City of Anniston, is adjacent to the CDP. Courtesy passes are provided to responders attending training. Facilities at the gym include heated indoor pool, racquetball, sauna, Nautilus room, free-weight room and basketball. Transportation is provided to and from all training areas and support facilities. The shuttle operates on an as-needed basis in and around surrounding community.

Attire for training is casual and may include shorts and tennis shoes for summer months or blue jeans in cooler seasons. Work uniforms may also be worn if desired. During the outdoor training, durable "work-type" clothing should be worn. Students attending the hazardous materials course must be in good physical condition due to heat and work conditions in Level A, B and C chemical protective clothing.

Students who participate in the optional WMD Toxic Agent (COBRA) Training exercise must have blood pressure not to exceed 150 over 90, no facial hair that prevents proper seal of a mask and have not suffered heat stroke within 72 hours of training. Blood will be drawn before and after entry to the Toxic Agent Facility to ensure no exposures occurred during the training. Cameras may be used during all programs at the CDP except for the Toxic Agent Facility. Class photographs are taken during the course and can be purchased for $12.

Every effort is made by CDP staff to meet the needs of students during the program. Safety is stressed throughout and every precaution is taken to ensure a safe and successful training experience. Course managers conduct a briefing on the first day of training, highlighting the training events.

For more information about CDP and its training opportunities, contact:
Center for Domestic Preparedness
P.O. Box 5100, Fort McClellan,
AL 36205-5100 (256-848-4012).

LZ Johnson Retires as CDP Director

Effective August 2003, LZ Johnson has retired as director of the Center for Domestic Preparedness. He has served at the center since its inception in June 1998 and has been instrumental in the concept and development of the CDP as the nation's premier training center for emergency responders.

From an initial $2 million and five employees in 1998, Johnson guided CDP to its current $45 million budget and 370 people working at the center. Prior to becoming the CDP director, Johnson served as deputy executive director of the Fort McClellan Development Commission (FMDC). During that time, plans were developed for a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) emergency responder training program.

As director of the CDP, Johnson led the way in developing and initiating the all-hazard programs for the nation's firefighters, law enforcement, emergency medical personnel and other responders. The center is now involved in anti-terrorism as well as counter-terrorism training.


Robert Burke, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is a veteran of 24 years in fire and emergency services, with experience in career and volunteer departments. He has attained the rank of lieutenant, assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be reached in the Internet at robert.burke@att.net.

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