Wednesday morning, February 8, at 9:57 a.m. CST, as most people were probably going about their workday, a historic event happened at FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala. At that moment, the first group of state, local, and tribal responders went through live agent training inside CDP’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological, or COBRA, training facility using biological materials.
Since the CDP opened in 1998 the facility has provided the only location in the U.S. where civilian responders could train with chemical agents GB and VX. As of Wednesday, those same responders can now include biological materials in their training repertoire.
Wednesday’s inaugural training was the result of more than a year of preparation, planning, remodeling, internal training, curriculum development, and practice by CDP staff. The CDP embarked on this journey because it was the right thing to do for our nation’s responders, it meets a growing threat to the nation, and it can be done safely using the CDP’s live agent training facility and experienced staff inside the COBRA. In recent years, responders coming through the CDP consistently expressed the desire for enhanced biological agent training to accompany the existing chemical agent training at CDP.
As recently as Nov. 1, 2011, the FBI arrested four men in Georgia accused of plotting terrorist attacks on U.S. cities using Ricin. Additionally, the Feb. 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report stated that, among others, the threats and hazards that challenge U.S. interests are “high-consequence weapons of mass destruction.”
While we can’t always predict when or where such attacks might occur, we can make sure our nation’s local, state and tribal responders are prepared in case the unthinkable does happen. That is why the CDP trains more than 12,000 responders a year at our facilities here in Anniston, Ala. I take great comfort in knowing that the responders who train at the CDP can now return to their own communities with the added confidence that they can respond safely and effectively to a biological incident in their hometown. That is the kind of training that truly enhances our nation’s preparedness.
As part of its training CDP will be using two biological materials: Ricin A-chain and Bacillus anthracis delta Sterne. These materials will allow our first responders the opportunity to detect biological agents they might encounter. However, the CDP will only be using the nonpathogenic forms of both materials. These two strains will help us maintain the safety of everyone associated with the training because they do not produce the same toxins/disease as the uniquely different sister forms of these materials.