During the past few years, the Center for Domestic Preparedness’ COBRA (Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological) Training Facility has undergone a number of changes aimed at making the training experience there exclusively ‘civilian responder centric.’ 

Students no longer wear military personal protective equipment in training but National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators and outer garments their organizations can easily acquire from commercial vendors. The curriculum developers have also worked hard to focus course material on select responder skill sets, insuring students get training that translates into enhanced capabilities for their organizations.

The COBRA is now looking to make additional changes, particularly to the areas of the facility in which responders do hands-on training.

“It’s time for us to make the training environment more complex and put students in multiple scenarios to perform the same tasks – smoke filled rooms, flashing lights, interrupted power, secondary hazards, communications issues, etc. – all the things that are highly likely to hinder a first responder’s actions in the real world,” said Gary Milner, the CDP’s Assistant Director of Training who oversees the COBRATF.

“Additionally, our curriculum needs to further expand to where there are more tasks for students than time to accomplish them … to push the sense of the operational time period they’d have in the field, where they’re limited by the amount of air in their tanks and required recovery periods,” he added. “These factors add stress, and we need to take responders to these stress points in training as part of building confidence in their skills and equipment.”

While he acknowledges the changes will not happen overnight, Milner said he is assembling a tiger team to help shape the strategy of the COBRATF into the next few decades – a strategy “that will immerse responders and emergency managers into realistic, challenging, and rewarding training supported by emerging technologies and interactive venues that maximizes students’ opportunity to learn and build capability for their communities.”

Milner said he expects the team to provide him its initial recommendations by the summer.