The Technical Emergency Response Training (TERT) course is the foundation training class at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), located in Anniston, Ala. 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 crtical 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.
"It feels awesome to complete the COBRA training," said Julie Melton, an emergency room medical technician from Hemet, Calif. "Working with biological material and chemical agents was scary, but interesting and the best training—I am better prepared. Not many people get to do this. I am very proud of my TERT certificate."
The TERT course offers an opportunity for students to receive operational training necessary to respond to acts of terrorism. Although the training is modeled after a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) response, it also includes activities associated with all-hazards events caused by accidents or natural disasters.
The four-day course features more than 30 hours of training and provides responders with experience operating in various levels of personal protective equipment. The CDP is an authorized provider under the International Association for Continuing Education and Training; with TERT offering 3.2 hours of Continuing Education Units (CEUs).
"Not only do our students receive the most up-to-date training on current threats, they have an opportunity to complete training required by the jurisdiction or profession," said Dickson. "Relevant training is a priority, and offering nationally recognized CEUs, is an appealing factor."
In addition to classroom instruction, the TERT course provides students with important information featuring a summary of terrorist threats and potential targets. TERT also includes extensive hands-on exercises in decontamination, mass casualty triage, and survey and monitoring.
Biological and Chemical threats have painted challenges for the national preparedness picture. Multiple homeland security studies have pointed to the United States' weakness against WMD materials, particularly in the area of biological materials. The TERT course provides an answer for better preparedness by providing the town, state or tribe with a more confident responder in the field.
TERT graduates highlight the confidence gained during training. Graduates reflect on their ability to respond to a hazardous environment, knowing they can perform capably and their equipment will work effectively, ensuring their safety and survival.
"The TERT course prepares you for reality," said Edtismond Johnson, a fire fighter from Chicago. "I am able to meet my department's hazardous material goals through attending this training, and also deal with homeland security threats. It's a little scary, but if the students listen to their instructors and pays attention, they will be more comfortable. I am definitely more confident."
"This training was very thorough and intense," said Melton. "This training was an eye-opener and forces us to look at events in the world differently [so that we can] focus on prepare. I learned new techniques that I will put to use in my department; and I feel more confident with my skills."
Enrollment and Funding
CDP training focuses on incident management, mass casualty response, and emergency response to catastrophic natural disasters or terrorist acts. CDP training for state, local, and tribal responders is fully funded by the Department of Homeland Security.
TERT provides diverse training suitable for response disciplines responsible for operating in a contaminated environment. The course is conducted on an operational level and is performance-driven, focusing on potential real-world incidents. The TERT course serves as the foundation for many of the 40-plus courses offered at the CDP. The center's training and curriculum staffs constantly review course materials to ensure CDP training is current and relevant, based on new doctrine, the changing threat, and the needs of the response community.