ANNISTON, Ala.—The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) announced today that the Center will resume using nerve agents and biologicals in some of its hazardous materials training courses on Jan. 11.
In late 2016, the CDP suspended the use of the nerve agents GB and VX, and biologicals ricin and anthrax after it was discovered the Center’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological training facility (COBRATF) had received, via third party vendor, and had been using a more toxic version of ricin in training than what CDP had ordered.
Since then, the CDP has continued to conduct hazardous material training at its COBRA facility, but without those agents and biologicals.
To resume training with the materials, the CDP will purchase ricin A-chain from a different vendor in the CDC’s Select Agent Program. CDP staff have visited and validated the reliability of the vendor’s processes. The vendor will also ship orders to a laboratory at DHS’s National Bioforensic Analysis Center for analysis before being shipped to the CDP for use in training.
That third-party validation process will add to a number of recent enhancements—both physical and administrative—at the COBRA facility aimed at making it even safer for those training with the four types of materials.
These improvements include:
• National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirator masks for students and COBRATF staff.
• Updates to the facility’s ventilation system to allow more precise control of the air flow and pressure in the training bays where the agents and toxins are used.
• Approval to hire additional staff, to include an additional safety and occupational health officer, an additional environmental management specialist, and an additional quality assurance analyst.
The enhancements also include the creation of a formal advisory board for the facility, which will include representatives from a number of national occupational safety and health and compliance assurance offices and agencies.
"Our number one goal is to provide our students and staff the safest, most realistic training possible," said CDP Acting Superintendent Tony Russell. “With these enhancements, we will continue to do just that."
The CDP’s COBRATF trains up to 2,500 civilian first responders a year to detect and operate in environments with chemical, biological and nuclear materials. This advanced, hands-on training builds confidence in those responders to effectively respond to real-world incidents involving those materials throughout the nation.
Overall, the CDP trains up to 50,000 students annually, from public health, public works and emergency management officials to hazardous material specialists, law enforcement specialists, firefighters, and doctors, nurses and other health care workers. The students come from all states and U.S. territories, as well as a number of foreign countries.
In July, the CDP reached an historic milestone when it trained its one millionth student.