Nearly 10 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Environmental Health Services Branch (EHSB) delivered the first Environmental Health Training in Emergency Response (EHTER) Awareness Level course at the National Environmental Health Association’s 2006 Annual Educational Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas. Based on the tremendous success of this introductory level course, EHSB and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Alabama, are pleased to announce a new EHTER course focused on emergency operations.

The EHTER Operations course is a four-day, hands-on, performance-based training for environmental health professionals and other responders. The course provides operations-level knowledge and skills needed to respond to natural, technological, and human caused disasters. Participants are trained to identify problems, hazards, and risks; plan for team response; select appropriate equipment and instrumentation; perform required tasks using environmental health response protocols; and report and participate in follow-up activities as instructed.

Most of the course involves hands-on operations practice and response to simulated events. Participants perform environmental health responder tasks while wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. The course also includes training at CDP’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological Training Facility, where participants engage in scenario-based exercises to sharpen skills in selecting and using appropriate equipment and sampling instruments.

Key Skills

The following are some of the critical skills taught during the EHTER Ops course.

Preparing as a team to respond to suspected water supply contamination in a potentially hazardous environment.

Determining corrective actions for water supplies contaminated by chemicals and bacteria.

Determining safety and health requirements for a displaced population and environmental health shelter concerns using CDC’s Environmental Health Assessment Form for Shelters.

Conducting food safety assessments for emergency mass feeding operations, including implementing corrective actions and reporting on foodborne illness outbreaks.

Identifying nonstructural building safety and health hazards following a major disaster to facilitate reentry and re-occupancy.

Communicating complex environmental health and safety information to nontechnical audiences, including the media and the public.

The EHTER Operations course provides environmental health professionals and other responders the opportunity to immerse themselves in simulated emergency situations and disasters to learn and practice environmental health skills (see photo above). With a small instructor-to-student ratio and ample trained role players and props, participants have ready access to instructors for questions and critiques.

Pilot Course Participants Share Their Experiences

Participants from various environmental health programs and jurisdictions across the country attended and provided critical feedback during four pilot courses. Kim Zabel, deputy assistant secretary of environmental public health for the Washington Department of Health, registered for the pilot course to gain necessary knowledge and skills during a disaster. She brought additional state and local staff with her so they could train as a team and prepare for future emergencies and disasters in the state. According to Zabel, “The opportunity for so many Washington representatives to attend this course at the same time, learning the same content with local health partners, was a magical moment.” Grateful to attend the course alongside her colleagues, she added, “It’s important to see how they work together.” When a disaster strikes in Washington, part of her role will be determining how to build the team that will respond.

Victor Faconti, an environmental health supervisor who serves as a member of the Florida Environmental Health Strike Team for his region, also attended a pilot course. He said the biggest environmental hazards his team must plan for are hurricanes, although they prepare for all types of hazards. According to Faconti, “You need to be fresh. You need to be up-to-date. You need to be a good team player.” Faconti said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in the EHTER Operations course and recommends it to all environmental health professionals. “This is awesome training! I’ve worked in environmental health for 29 years and I wish I had known about this training 25 years ago,” Faconti said. “I’m going to recommend to my boss that we send all of our staff here. I’m going to recommend this course to my county and the surrounding counties,” he added. “I have people who work for me who say, ‘What do we do during a disaster?’ This is it! This is what we do during a disaster!” CDC and FEMA invite you to join with environmental health professionals and other response partners for this exciting new EHTER course.

For more information on the CDP’s EHTER Ops course, visit, ops. Training at the CDP is fully funded for state, local, tribal and territorial responders. The Department of Homeland Security funds the training, students’ travel, lodging and meals. To learn more about CDP training or to register for training, visit or call 866-213-9553.