TERT Takes Toxic Approach to Emergency Response

The Technical Emergency Response Training (TERT) course is considered one of the most unique as well as valuable courses offered at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Ala. TERT – one of several all-hazards training courses at the CDP – provides one-of-a-kind training, and the CDP is the only U.S. site where civilian emergency responders can train in an actual nerve-agent environment. This hands-on training experience takes place at the CDP’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological Training Facility – the COBRATF. The TERT course enables responders to effectively prevent, respond to, and recover from incidents involving chemical weapons and other hazardous materials. The major TERT attraction “is the extensive hands-on training [provided] and the fact that responders perform tasks in a genuine nerve-agent environment,” said Mellione Richards, TERT course manager. ” … An operational-level, performance-driven course, it provides responders with the skills necessary to respond to a real-world incident. “We provide our nation’s first responders with the necessary tools to go home and protect themselves, their families, and their communities in a WMD [weapons of mass destruction] all-hazards incident,” Richards continued. “The TERT course is the foundation upon which several of the CDP courses are built.” 

The Updating of Traditional Disciplines 

Rick Dickson, acting assistant director for training delivery, points out that the TERT course is an expanded version of the CDP’s original “COBRA Course” – offered in the center’s early years following the CDP’s founding in 1998. “The original COBRA course focused on more traditional response disciplines like fire, EMS, and law enforcement,” Dickson continued. “The course was redesigned to … [provide] the toxic training The course offers multiple disciplines the opportunity to not only train together, but also to gain a better understanding of each discipline’s roles and responsibilities in catastrophic events experience needed by traditional and non-traditional emergency responders.” Included in that category are emergency management, healthcare, public health, public communications, public works, and government administrative professionals. The TERT course offers an opportunity to all of them, Dickson said, “to receive the operational defensive training … [needed] to respond to acts of terrorism.” Modifications to the TERT course continued during the past decade to include response activities associated not only with terrorism but also all-hazards events caused by accidents, acts of nature, and/or man-made disasters. More than 10,000 emergency responders have trained in the current course since its inception in 2001. The course now offers multiple disciplines from numerous jurisdictions the opportunity to not only train together, but also a chance to gain a better understanding of each discipline’s capabilities, roles, and responsibilities in catastrophic events. “

The TERT course includes responders from [a variety of] response disciplines,” said Dickson. “What makes this course truly unique is the varying levels of experience [of the participants] … which may include a firefighter who is in his or her first years of service to a nurse with more than 20 years of experience.” CEUs, PPE, and a Focus on CBRNE The four-day course features more than 30 hours of training, and provides responders with the experience needed while wearing various levels of protective equipment. The TERT course also provides more than three hours of Continuing Education Units (CEUs). (The CDP is an authorized provider of CEUs under the International Association for Continuing Education and Training.) “Responders have an opportunity to experience [wearing] multiple types of personal protective equipment – PPE Level B, for example, which includes use of a self-contained breathing apparatus, and Level C,” during which an air-purifying respirator is used “in several different scenarios,” said Kenneth Vinson, assistant TERT course manager. “

Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cold,” he continued, “but very seldom is the temperature just right. The responders experience the challenges involved with using PPE and they receive a thorough explanation of how to operate the gear. At the end of the , they feel much more confident with all of the equipment.” In addition to room instruction, the TERT course provides students with important operational training that includes a number of hands-on exercises. The all-hazards approach features a summary of the terrorist threat, potential targets, and various chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) hazards that may be used in WMD incidents. “Responders attending the TERT course will receive an overview of CBRNE materials, incident command systems, and extensive decontamination operations,” Richards said. “They also receive instruction on mass-casualty triage, improvised explosive devices, and search techniques.” “TERT is a complete, diversified course that ranges from an awareness level, a refresher level, or a very complex level for some responders,” Vinson summarized. Emergency response providers participating in the TERT course finish their CDP training confident in their own ability to perform in situations requiring emergency response. 

At the completion of the challenging course, the responders who successfully complete the course are presented the coveted COBRA pin – a King Cobra in a hooded threat display, a recognizable warning posture – that signifies their successful entry into and execution of difficult tasks in a toxic environment. “The course exceeded my expectations,” said Lt. Stephen Weiler, a police officer from Illinois. “I feel very comfortable now attempting to provide quality response to a mass-casualty incident. I really enjoyed the [COBRATF] training, and how we tested two separate agents. Police, fire, medical, EMS responders are not ‘windshield’ tourists in the professions we serve. We are the ones who get out and get our hands dirty – boots on the ground, hands-on, in the middle of it all. The COBRA facility, and the [COBRA] pin as a reminder, is one of those places we love to be,” he added. “You can’t find the COBRA pin on eBay®. You earn … [it] by successfully going through the CDP training.” The TERT course serves as the bedrock for a number of the 38 courses offered at the CDP. The center’s training and curriculum staffs constantly review course materials to ensure that the CDP training is always both current and relevant, based on new doctrine, the changing threat, and the needs of the response community.

For additional information about training opportunities at the CDP, visit http://cdp.dhs.gov.

Shannon Arledge

Shannon Arledge is a public affairs specialist at the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama. A retired Marine gunnery sergeant, he served in numerous public affairs/public information assignments during his 20 years on active duty, including tours of duty at Headquarters Marine Corps, the Defense Information School, and Marine Barracks Washington. He deployed twice to the Persian Gulf – in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – as Public Affairs Chief for Marine Forces U.S. Central Command (Forward) and Public Affairs Chief for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. A graduate of the Defense Information School for Public Affairs and Visual Information, he also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from the University of Phoenix.



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