The Technical Emergency Response Training (TERT) course is the foundation training class at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), located in Anniston, AL. TERT, originally titled "Advanced Operations," has a legacy stretching nearly 15 years - its beginning traced to the CDP's founding in June 1998.
In the early days of the Advanced Operations course only traditional response disciplines - such as fire, EMS, and law enforcement - attended the training. In May 1999 the course was renamed the "COBRA Course," to underscore the unique facility and training at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological (COBRA) Training Facility. The COBRA Course was redesigned in 2000 which included expanding the target audience to add emergency management, healthcare, public health, public communications, public works, and government administrative specialists.
"The TERT course extended preparedness levels throughout emergency response, said Rick Dickson, associate director of CDP Training Programs. "The course supports the all-hazards approach to emergency management in that its competency based training for the emergency response community, whether they are police officers or EMTs. This is one of the courses where a diverse group of emergency responders receive training in a toxic environment using nerve agents GB and VX, because in a real-world event, you are going to have multiple disciplines responding to the emergency, and they need to understand the complexities of safely operating in the environment," Dickson explained.
Initially titled from the CDP's unique training site, the COBRA Class, now known as TERT, remains the most highly attended course at the CDP that allows students to train in the toxic agent training facility.
More than 16,000 emergency responders have taken the course since its inception in 1998. The CDP has hosted almost 400 TERT courses, averaging around 1,100 graduates per year. The course integrates emergency responders and receivers from multiple disciplines and multiple jurisdictions in a realistic training environment that gives the students a better understanding of each discipline's capabilities, roles, and responsibilities in catastrophic events.
"The opportunity for emergency responders to train with other disciplines is a key benefit of the TERT course," said Dickson. "This course highlights techniques, tactics, and technologies from across the response community. TERT affords participants an opportunity to expand their knowledge, and experience level regardless of their discipline. It enables students, from any discipline, to learn critical skills, regardless of their experience level."
One training venue used in the course is Northville, a fictional town at the COBRA facility that resembles a movie set. When training in Northville, the students are required to react to a realistic scenario involving a mock chemical or biological release that threatens the community's population. Northville includes a school house, fire department, shopping and eating venues, and a police station.
The COBRA is the only place in the nation where civilian emergency responders can train in an actual nerve agent environment. More than a year ago, the COBRA significantly expanded its capabilities, as well as those of the TERT course. Now, in addition to training in an actual toxic chemical environment, students also train in a biologically hazardous environment, which, according to Dickson, gives the students experience in locating and identifying this very real threat.
In February 2012, the CDP began using biological agents at the COBRA training facility. Now repeated on a weekly basis, the TERT course, along with four other courses, includes biological materials. The CDP uses anthrax and ricin, providing hands-on, detailed training for what has been identified as a major national threat. The use of biological materials in training expands the nation's preparedness by introducing the emergency-response community to real-world threats by building their confidence and knowledge to safely and confidently respond. Over the past year, almost 1,000 emergency responders have taken the TERT course. Each student takes this hands-on experience back to their home jurisdiction to provide a response force more prepared to deal with modern threats, Dickson said.