Chances are you’ve never heard of Granger County in the state of Columbia, or its two primary cities, Pleasant Grove and Needland. For three and a half years, the county has been a target of not only biological and radiological hazards, but explosive and chemical hits as well.
At times there are dozens of fire trucks on the scene, along with hundreds of emergency workers responding to the large-scale crisis at hand, leaving the incident commander with an enormous task requiring coordination and high-level decision-making skills. Resources are stretched, managerial skills are tested, and situational awareness is sharpened.
The crises that have plagued Granger County far outweigh the resources of the county and its major cities. Needland is larger than Pleasant Grove and has more response resources but a smaller tax base, while Pleasant Grove has a stronger tax base and newer equipment. While the cities mutually support one another, the recent large-scale emergencies have required assistance from both the state and federal level.
Of course, Granger County is fictitious, as are the emergencies that continue to befall the area. However, lessons learned from the simulated exercises are helping responders from across the country prepare for large-scale disasters including terrorism.
Granger County is the focal point of the Enhanced Incident Management/Unified Command Course (E IMUC) offered by the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC), a division of The Texas A&M University System’s Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).
The 28-hour, grant-funded course offered in College Station has drawn 1,280 participants from across the country including a recent visit from Los Angeles city responders. In fact, the course is currently booked through March 2007. As of press time, spots were available on the following dates: April 9-13, May 14-18, June 11-15, Aug. 13-17, and Aug. 20-24.
While the course is designed for those at the incident command level, it is open to elected officials, especially those “who want to know what they can do to help the incident commander get the resources he or she needs,” said Dave Nock, program manager with NERRTC.
“It’s definitely something that elected officials should be aware of from the standpoint of how the process works,” Nock said.
Program coordinator Mark Anderson echoed Nock saying “it would be great for the county judge to come through and see how things are run at the lower levels.” Anderson described the class “as the only course of its kind available in the nation.”
Approximately 350 Texans have completed the training so far, including a few elected officials.
The class is funded by the Office of Grants and Training (OGT) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). NERRTC arranges and provides all travel, lodging and per diem for participants. The training takes three and a half days and is normally scheduled for Tuesday through noon on Friday.
“This is something that has been needed for a long time,” Nock said.
Course topics include:
Principles of Incident Management/Unified Command (IM/UC)
Overview of NIMS (National Incident Management System) and the Incident Command System (ICS)
Organizing and staffing for Unified Command
Incident facilities and communications
Resource management and Incident Management Strategies
Incident Action Plan development
ICS documentation overview
Training simulations tools overview
IM/UC CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) training
The course is delivered on computer screens, Nock said, with images and sounds enhanced by video clips. Participants are provided with a town map that was modeled from Corpus Christi.
“When we were putting together the course, I needed to be able to address natural disasters and weapons of mass destruction/terrorism,” Nock said. A location similar to Corpus Christi, complete with ports, petrochemical plants and tourism hot spots, is susceptible to these types of emergencies including hurricanes.
Inside the mock incident command post, trainees have access to the expected resources including radios and telephones. For example, students can pick up the phone and talk to the driver of Engine #30, Nock said, while viewing vehicles as they move on the computer map.
“All of the communication pieces that you’d expect are available,” he continued.
Throughout the simulation the components are in place to meet the overall goal of the course: to enhance the participants’ incident management and decision-making skills necessary to effectively and safely respond to a CBRNE incident.
The class is designed to give supervisory responders a “virtual experience” in the management of CBRNE incidents. The overall incident management structure used in the course is based on the NIMS and the National Response Plan (NRP), and is certified by the DHS.
Regarding course prerequisites, participants are asked to complete the NERRTC IM/UC course or an equivalent Intermediate level ICS course such as the FEMA EMI course, Intermediate Incident Command System G195, or the NWCG I-300 course or higher that covers incident management and unified command. Experience, position, and time in service will be considered in lieu of course completion.
TEEX also offers an online course, “WMD Incident Management/Unified Command Concepts,” which provides a review of basic ICS and unified command concepts. This course and other NERRTC WMD online courses can be found at the TEEX Domestic Preparedness Campus at http://www.teexwmdcampus.com.
EOC Course in the Works
Another course pertinent to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is in the initial phase of development, Nock said. The class will also use simulated computer training focusing on the EOC. Preparations include doubling the size of the current training facility and building an operations deck overlooking the training area, allowing everyone controlling the exercise to view operations.
This EOC course will be especially ideal for elected officials, Anderson said, and should be available in about 18 months.
For more information on the Enhanced Incident Management/Unified Command Course, go to www.teex.com/eotc. For more information on the upcoming EOC course, contact Mark Anderson at 979-458-7777 or email@example.com.
Julie Anderson, Editor