Classrooms, textbooks, presentations and computers are possibly a student’s most common expectation of a typical learning environment. Recently, 24 students, from Southwestern College in San Diego, traded in their pens and notebooks for breathing apparatuses, bulky gloves, rubber boots and protective suits. These students are enrolled in the college’s paramedic program and attended training at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), in Anniston, Ala.

“This training provides our students a well-rounded exposure to current threats and better prepares us,” says Loretta Contreras, an instructor with the college and a paramedic for the past 30 years. “The [Technical Emergency Response Training for CBRNE Incidents] course explains what we should be alert to and topics we don’t think about on a day-to-day basis.”

TERT is the Technical Emergency Response Training for CBRNE Incidents (TERT) course. TERT is unique because it’s multi-disciplinary and combines a variety of response disciplines such as healthcare, law enforcement and fire service. This course is part of a handful of CDP classes that allow emergency responders to train in a nerve-agent and biological-material environment.

“Anyone who says the U.S. isn’t preparing or training to respond to a biological or chemical event, I’d say is wrong,” said Brad Whitman, a student in the paramedic program. “I’ve taken a lot of classes before this; and, this course is real training and experience. The TERT training has many different components that prepare us. We have the classroom, interactive portions of training and then we have the practical [exercise] at the end of the week. So, we get the full aspect of how to handle these hazardous situations involving chemicals or biological material. If any of this were to happen in a real-life situation, we have the training and everything to be prepared.”

TERT training offers a unique opportunity to train at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological (COBRA) Training Facility. The COBRA makes it possible for emergency responders to practice a hands-on response with toxic agents. In addition to the nerve agents used in CDP training since 1998, the CDP incorporated biological materials, Anthrax and Ricin, at the COBRA for the first time in February 2012.

“There is training for a biological response and it is hands-on and detailed,” said Contreras. “We try to train for this threat as best we can, but here are the experts. All the students have said their eyes are more open and they are more alert after this week. It was excellent training. We’re more confident. We’re all more solid because of this.”

“Part of paramedic school is constant change,” said Whitman. “Technology and instructional methods are always changing from subject to subject. This was a change that will make us better as paramedics and better students. It makes us more prepared and provides the confidence to really respond to these types of incidents.”

For the past six years Southwestern has included CDP training in its paramedic program and the school has graduated approximately 175 paramedics who have completed the TERT course. According to Devin Price, paramedic program director for Southwestern College, CDP training is the students’ first introduction to mass-casualty response involving hazardous materials and other threatening incidents.

“CDP training is the primary introduction into Weapons of Mass Destruction and [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive] events,” said Price. “This is the first time all of them have operated in a toxic environment and many of them have never had a chance to use the equipment. Incorporating the CDP into our program creates a better paramedic, ready to respond and save lives. Feedback received says CDP training produces a better paramedic with a higher awareness level and experience.”

“As we train to be paramedics we need to be versatile,” said Whitman. “We never know what we may be called to do—it could be anything. We may experience a mass-casualty incident, bomb explosion or chemical release and we don’t have a lot of experience to that type of response. Attending hands-on training like this, not to mention the instructors with overwhelming combined experiences, provides that experience.”

CDP training is fully funded for tribal, state, and local response personnel. Round-trip air and ground transportation, lodging, and meals are provided at no cost to responders or their agency or jurisdiction. The CDP plays a leading role in preparing state, local and tribal responders to prepare for and respond to manmade events or major accidents involving mass casualties. To learn more about the Center for Domestic Preparedness, visit or call 866-213-9553. Visit the CDP on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn