The United States Army National Guard 140th Chemical Company from Los Alamitos, Calif., spent two weeks in Anniston, Ala., recently. The unit brought 38 soldiers to FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) to attend advanced-level training on handling hazardous materials.
The 140th's mission is to detect and mitigate Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents to include Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) events. The men and women of the 140th attended two CDP courses—the Emergency Responder Hazardous Materials Technician for CBRNE (ERHM) Incidents course and the Hazardous Materials Technician for CBRNE Incidents (HT) course.
Among the many courses offered at the CDP for emergency response personnel, ERHM is a five-day class providing responders with a combination of lectures and advanced hands-on practical exercises. The responders receive hands-on training in identifying hazardous materials, using advanced surveying and monitoring equipment, selecting and using the appropriate level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and performing decontamination procedures.
"This training keeps us focused and up-to-date on the latest equipment," said 1st Sgt. Fernando Ravega, company first sergeant. "These skills are perishable. If you don't train, you lose valuable knowledge."
The HT course includes hazardous materials technical training for operating in an all-hazards environment and the collection of potentially contaminated crime scene evidence. The course presents training that incorporates advanced competencies, technologies, and tactics that focus on the specific threats associated with chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive material.
"Training like this is a dying art and you can't get it just anywhere," said 1st Lt. Kristina Tudor, Reconnaissance platoon leader. "We can't train like this at home. Having the ability to train with live nerve agents and biological materials like Anthrax is specialized training you can only get [at the CDP]. To have this funded training helps our unit accomplish its training goals and support our state. We had a great opportunity to learn awesome techniques that most people don't think about."
Training ended with a day at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological (COBRA) training facility--the only training site of its kind for state, local, and tribal emergency responders. Working with nerve agents GB (Sarin) and VX and biological material, Anthrax, the students trained in a scenario simulating the rescue of citizens, preserving evidence, and locating and identifying the toxic substances.
"We are more confident," said Sgt. Jose Perez, who will soon be commissioned as a second lieutenant. "We can take this training back to others who could not [travel to Alabama]. This knowledge prepares me more if something were to happen in our city or state."
"We were able to share a conversation with the instructors and get instant feedback," said Pfc. Hannah Johnson, CBRNE specialist. "We can't do this training at home. I am more prepared. We are more prepared. I am more confident. If something were to happen at home now, I feel more confident in my ability to perform."
The CDP incorporates realistic venues into its hands-on training. Updated training areas enhance a modern learning environment including a sound-effects system, automated smoke delivery, observation cameras, and special lighting—all managed from a central control center. Students navigate dark hallways filled with smoke as they search for survivors, while carefully preserving crime scene evidence. A mock post office, office area, court room, and obstacles they must negotiate, create the setting of a simulated explosion, or chemical or biological release.
"This training improved our unit's ability to operate the equipment necessary to respond to a CBRNE event," said Tudor. "Decontamination and survey and monitoring procedures were also reinforced. CDP courses taught us more about setting up a command center and not just in a military setting. It gave us better experience to work with our civilian counterparts we will support."
"This training opened my eyes into how our soldiers perform in a chemical environment," said Ravega. "Most of us are only exposed to [nuclear, biological and chemical training] NBC for a few hours at a time to meet annual qualification requirements. This training shows a larger spectrum and updates us on threats and teaches us how to respond to that threat."
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 hazardous or toxic materials, to include mass casualties.
Under Title 32 (state support) mission, National Guard soldiers and airmen are eligible to attend fully funded training at the CDP. Department of Homeland Security funds the training, the students' travel, lodging and meals. To learn more about the Center for Domestic Preparedness, visit http://cdp.dhs.gov or call 866-213-9553.