Bulking Up Responders' Readiness

Agencies are spending billions on equipment, training for the health and safety of the homeland.

THE International Association of Fire Fighters has been conducting Weapons of Mass Destruction and hazardous materials training on a grand scale this year, bringing to thousands of firefighters the latest information on terrorism preparedness. Funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office for Domestic Preparedness, the program offers a 16-hour course of four units--chemical agents, radiologicals, explosives/incendiaries, and biological agents.

About 1,600 emergency responders in the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department were trained after the program began in December 2003. In Los Angeles more than 800 responders were trained. Training of all 3,600 members of the Houston Fire Department began in February 2005 and will continue throughout this year--seven days a week for eight hours a day, said Paul M. Hoffman, director of IAFF's WMD Training Department. The same "Emergency Response to Terrorism: Operations" course has been taught at fire departments in Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, and New Hampshire during the first half of 2005.

The union's WMD/HazMat Training Departments have more than 90 instructors across the United States involved in this effort. The WMD Department is projected to train more than 5,000 first responders this year in one of its three delivery formats, primarily the two-day direct delivery, Hoffman said. He said the focus of the training is health and safety, not tactics and strategies; annual funding averages $1 million to $1.5 million. "Soon this may not be enough funding to cover the number of requests," he told me.

IAFF's impressive work (visit www.iaff.org/wmd for information) is but a tiny piece of the overall DHS effort to bulk up America's first response capability. Since 2001, DHS has spent more than $14 billion equipping state and local first responders and training more than 600,000 of them, President Bush said at the March 3 swearing-in of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Some responders are still equipped with 1960s-era technology. But our readiness has improved. Our $14 billion has bought mobile decontamination and detection equipment, communications gear, hazmat trucks, up-to-date training, and an unprecedented unity among agencies charged with emergency preparation and response. "We will continue working to reduce our nation's vulnerabilities and prepare effective responses for any future attack," Bush promised March 3. "By their service and sacrifice, our police, our firefighters, and emergency rescue personnel are making the homeland safer. And our nation must constantly thank them for their work."

This column appears in the May 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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