Kent Latimer has worked at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala., on and off since 2004, first as a contractor and now as a federal employee. But, in those nine years, his wife, Kim, has never really had a chance to see what her husband does as a CDP training specialist. She didn't even know what his office looked like. That changed last week when the CDP hosted its "Bring Your Family to Work Day."
Kim and the Latimers' three children and granddaughter were among the nearly 200 family members who attended the half-day event, the first in the center's 15-year history.
"We have always wanted to host a family day at the center, but we have more obstacles to overcome than most organizations," said CDP acting Superintendent Mike King. The CDP's core mission is to train state, local and tribal first responders on incident management, mass casualty response and emergency response to catastrophic natural disasters or terrorist acts. The center offers more than 40 different courses that range in length from one to five days. During any given training week, the CDP has more than 200 students on campus, according to King.
The center is unique in many ways. First, the campus is set on the site of the former Fort McClellan, an Army base that closed in 1999. The center opened in 1998 with 15 buildings that were transferred from the Army. Today, the campus is comprised of 32 buildings, occupying 124 acres and almost 1 million square feet of building space.
One of the center's training venues is the Noble Training Facility (NTF), the former Noble Army Hospital that has been converted into a site for training health and medical personnel in disasters. The NTF is the only hospital facility in the nation dedicated to training hospital and healthcare professionals in disaster preparedness and response.
The CDP's most unique asset is the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility (COBRA TF), the former U.S. Army Chemical School's Chemical Defense Training Facility. The COBRA TF is the only facility where civilians can train with toxic chemical agents and non-pathogenic biological materials, which is also the reason why family members have never been able to visit their spouses and/or parents at the CDP... until now.
"Needless to say, we take security and safety very seriously," King said. "But, we also recognize that our staff of more than 800 federal and contract employees have families who would like to see where they work and what we do here at the CDP."
Oddly enough, trying to find a date to host the event was one of the biggest challenges. King wanted to host the event when the staff's children would be out of school, but he also had to choose a date when the CDP wouldn't have any students in classes either. "A few times a year, we have a week when we don't hold classes, usually in conjunction with a federal holiday," King explained. The July 4th holiday week satisfied both requirements.
The family members, ranging from infants to grandparents, turned out en masse. The family members received a briefing on the center before dividing up into groups to visit the five main facilities, including the Building 61 where most of the classes are taught; COBRA TF; Noble Training Facility; the Advanced Responder Training Complex; and the students' dorms.
"I was pleasantly surprised with all that is involved in preparing and training our first responders for the realities of emergencies," Kim said. "I found it so exciting I wanted to be a part of what is happening at the CDP!"
The "Bring Your Family to Work Day" was coordinated and carried out like any of the CDP's training programs, King explained. "Our federal and contractor staff work together to develop the concept and then carry out the mission. They are all very professional. They are very proud of the work they do to support FEMA's mission, so I knew they'd want to take this opportunity to show their families around the center.
For Kent Latimer, the event was a chance for his family to finally see where he works and what he does to help better prepare America's first responders. "I am proud of our mission at the CDP and the work we do to protect the citizens of the United States," he said. "I was very excited for my family to have a taste of what we do, meet my co-workers, and to see the enhancements that add realism to our training venues."