New Facility to Support WMD Response Capabilities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., Jun. 21, 2005 First responders will soon have a state-of-the-art facility here to hone the skills they'll need to deal with weapons of mass destruction and other chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological incidents.
Officials here will break ground next week for the Joint Emergency Responders Training Facility. When it opens in 2007, the facility will help give servicemembers from throughout the Defense Department as well as civilians from several federal agencies the skills they'll need when responding to a terrorist attack or other emergency, according to Army Col. Don Bailey, commander of the 3rd Chemical Brigade here.
The new facility is part of an extensive U.S. Chemical School program to better prepare soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, DoD civilians, and civilians from six other federal agencies focused on homeland security and homeland defense.
Other initiatives, Bailey said, include more advanced systems to detect and identify contaminants, training that encompasses detection and identification as well as decontamination, and an increased emphasis on hard-science skills.
The Chemical School anticipates "a wholesale change in our training within the next 12 to 18 months" to reflect the increased need for capabilities required when dealing with biological or chemical agents, explosives, or radiological or nuclear devices such as "dirty bombs," he said.
"We're adapting our capabilities and abilities to the current operating environment and doing it as rapidly as we can," Bailey said.
The school's training has traditionally focused on battlefield operations but, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has put increased emphasis on homeland defense as well.
The Army Chemical School currently trains National Guard civil support teams, which advise and assist civilian first responders, and installation support teams, which provide similar support to post commanders. Beginning in October, the school will begin training Army Reserve reconnaissance and decontamination teams that would provide backup support to National Guard civil support teams if needed, Bailey said.
Other programs being taught or soon to be introduced into the school's curriculum focus on first responders at military bases, staff planners, and Chemical Corps members who could be called on to provide domestic reconnaissance and decontamination.
Bailey said the nature of terrorism, which aims to attract attention for a cause by inflicting fear, dictates that terrorists will look for more dramatic weapons when the shock effect of high explosives begins to wear off.
"They're looking for the biggest bang for their buck and running out of ways to get the effect they want," he said.
That makes chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons likely next choices for terrorists, he said.
An attack like the one in Tokyo's subway system in 1995, when terrorists released sarin gas, could have a devastating effect if carried out using a more effective dispersal system, Bailey said. "It would spread terror everywhere," he said.
To prevent such a catastrophe or respond to it or others like it should they occur, Bailey said the Chemical Corps needs to bolster its capabilities and share its expertise with more first responders.
The new Joint Emergency Responders Training Facility promises to be a big step in that direction.
The $15 million facility, expected to be completed in April 2007, will train an estimated 2,000 students a year from Army National Guard Civil Support Teams, Army chemical units with a domestic homeland-security response mission, DoD emergency-response teams, and chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear installation-support teams.
The new center will feature two large decontamination bays and an urban exercise training area, complete with a factory, post office and two warehouses, where students test for contaminants, evacuate the area, then conduct decontamination.
The center will also include a simulation area for virtual emergency-response training, a simulated cave complex that includes a clandestine laboratory for confined-space training, an overturned tanker truck to be used for spill-response training, and a rail yard facility, Bailey said.
"This facility will serve as the national training center for all WMD people," he said. "When it opens, it will become the epicenter for this type of training."