Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) training programs remain as vital to today’s first responders as they have been for the past 10-plus years. Effective WMD training ensures our nation’s responders can effectively mitigate acts of terrorism, minimize casualties, protect our citizens and restore our communities following an incident.
Unfortunately, many EMS providers around the country report feeling inadequately trained to respond to acts of terrorism involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) materials. And of the EMS providers who do receive WMD training, many report it is only minimal. A December 2004 round table discussion from New York University’s Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response, reported more than half of EMS providers receive less than one hour of training in biological, chemical and explosive hazards, with 20% receiving no WMD training at all.1 This national roundtable also noted that fire department-based EMS providers received more training in homeland security and disaster management than non-fire-based EMS. Additionally, EMS providers in urban areas reported receiving more training, compared to their rural counterparts.1
A more recent survey conducted by Meridian Medical Technologies indicates there has been little change in WMD training for EMS providers to effectively respond to CBRNE incidents. Of those surveyed, only 37% reported an increase in WMD training over the last five years, while 25% reported a decrease, or no training at all. The survey also found only 42% of respondents reported receiving recurring training.2 Despite the Meridian Medical Technologies survey indicating a deficiency in WMD training, greater than 70% of the respondents expressed concern that a WMD incident will occur in the near future with widespread consequences.
A study published in 2005 analyzed all bombing incidents in the United States from January 1983 to December 2002 found 36,110 bombing incidents, resulting in 5,931 injuries and 699 deaths.3 Bombing incidents in the U.S. are a serious threat and they are a common practice in acts of terrorism. Following the Sept. 11 terror attacks the United States continues to be a terrorist target, making WMD training essential for EMS providers. Failed terrorist attempts against the U.S. include Richard Reid’s attempted shoe bombing aboard American Airlines flight 63; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear aboard Northwest flight 253; and Faisal Shahzad’s attempted Times Square bombing. Thwarted attempts include Jose Padilla’s plan to detonate a radioactive dispersal device (RDD); a 2009 Bronx terrorism plot; a Columbus shopping mall bombing plot; and the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot. Successful attacks consist of the 2001 anthrax letters, resulting in five deaths; 2009 Little Rock recruiting office shooting; Fort Hood shooting; and the 2002 shooting at LAX’s El Al ticket counter, killing three. These attacks are only a handful of the terrorist-related incidents that have occurred in the U.S. since 2001. Furthermore, a 2011 Newsweek article published results from an Alabama-based civil rights group indicating the number of U.S.-based right wing extremist groups increased from 149 to 824, mainly due to various recent economic and political changes, such as the Patriot Act.4 These incidents indicate the increasing variety of terrorist threats in the U.S., from both domestic and foreign groups.