More than 20 members of Florida’s Environmental Response Team (ERT) practiced in hands-on training recently at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), located in Anniston, Ala. These first responders attended the Hazardous Materials Technician for CBRNE Incidents (HT) course. The course conveys complex concepts using hands-on learning models offering realistic scenario-based exercises.

The ERT members represented more than 12 cities around the state. The various team members included fire experts, law enforcement, public health, hazardous materials and safety specialists.

“The team’s primary focus is to respond to CBRNE incidents to protect human health and the environment,” said Jeff Waters, Emergency Response Specialist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “Our ERT specializes in identifying unknown hazards, collecting forensic evidence and mitigating the hazard.”

The course is designed for personnel working in emergency management, emergency medical services, fire service, governmental administrative, hazardous materials, healthcare, law enforcement, public health, public safety communications and public works. Over the past 16 years nearly 18,000 emergency responders have completed the HT course; of those more than 11,500 are fire service, over 2,500 law enforcement and more than 3,500 make up other disciplines.

“The training aided in learning how to identify a biological, chemical or radiological incident,” said Christopher Scovotto, a law enforcement detective for the state’s Fire Marshal’s Office. “Using the appropriate instruments for testing showed a variety of different capabilities.”

“Many of our team members have trained at the CDP individually,” said Waters. “Attending as a team provides opportunities for our members to learn and lead as a group.”

“As a member of the [ERT] this training provides me with the opportunity to expand and further hone the skills that I may be required to use in the event we mobilize to deal with a threat involving a chemical, biological or radiological nature,” said Shawn Yao, forensic supervisor for the Tallahassee Police Department. “Since we trained as a group, this helps continue to develop as a member of our multi-agency team and integrate my set of skills with the others in order to provide a positive impact on the team.”

The five-day course allows students to operate equipment and exercise their ability to respond to an all-hazards event. In addition to more advanced response tools, the course includes advanced training venues that expanded the CDP’s ability to offer students an even more realistic training experience.

The training venues used include a large indoor street scene where students can detect live radioactive sources and a subway train system. Dressed in protective equipment, the students move through dark passageways triaging survivors while sampling crime scene evidence. The training environment also incorporates smoke-filled rooms, a mock post office, distinctive lighting and sound effects to simulate a realistic incident.

“Frequent training and exercises allow the team to better prepare to effectively respond during a real-world incident,” said Brett Starling, an investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Our response might be with the ERT or when the team members are working their day-to-day jobs. In both cases we are more knowledgeable and confident in the equipment we use and are more successful at protecting Florida's public and environment.”

HT challenged the response team with an extensive hands-on training experience. The course also provides students an overview of both international and domestic threats, with a spotlight on identification and decontamination of biological, chemical, radiological and explosive hazards. The 40-hour course includes training at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological training facility (COBRA). The COBRA is the only civilian facility in the nation conducting training exercises using nerve agents GB and VX and also includes biological materials Anthrax and Ricin.

“The identification and equipment used at the COBRA, and the scenarios, has increased my confidence and my ability to be more of an asset to the ERT,” added Scovotto.

“The COBRA facility allowed our team to use equipment and practice procedures we’ll use in the field,” said Waters. “Donning protective equipment [and training] with real agents and biologicals is an experience that improved my knowledge and confidence.”

Training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness is fully funded. To learn more about the CDP and this course, visit http://cdp.dhs.gov or call 866-213-9553.