Local officers get special WMD training

Published 4:28 pm Thursday, April 5, 2007

While the local community would most likely never face the threat of a mass destruction event, there are areas close by that could be potential targets.

To prepare for such incidents three members of the Picayune Fire Department attended a Homeland Security Weapons of Mass Destruction training course.

John Mark Mitchell, Barry Lee and Louis Moak all attended the training in Alabama from March 26 – 28, which was fully funded by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Grants and Training. Lee said all the travel and other accommodations so the training did not cost Picayune tax payers a dime.

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Lee said the training focused on incident command instruction to show various agencies how to work together to get things done in the event of an incident.

“You work through a chain of command to make things happen,” Lee said.

Other parts of the training gave all agencies universal names for equipment, so there would be no confusion on requests for aid.

“Everywhere you go, terminology is different,” Lee said.

The training covered preincident training, threat analysis and target analysis, Mitchell said. Mitchell said the training also got students familiar with what kind of aid each department would be able to provide, so they would know what to ask for and where from.

People from all parts of the country were at the training, so they could also have the universal terminology for various equipment. That also provided Lee and Mitchell with opportunities to meet new people and network, they said.

Lee said the training has been around for a number of years, but was beefed up after the events surrounding 9/11. The training attendees received can be used in various situations, such as another major hurricane, Lee said.

During the training each student was put into groups and had to form a plan of action for the event they were given. Mitchell said the process used a computer simulation that helped him visualize the situation and assess need more accurately.

“It made it easier because it was as real as it could get,” Mitchell said.

The training also prepares emergency responders to stick out a situation until help can arrive.

“The local responders have to be prepared to respond to an event for an extended period of time, and we saw that in Katrina,” Lee said.

Possible scenarios could also involve incidents that would not involve a terrorist attack, such as a derailed train car that has released chlorine, Lee said. Mitchell said an overturned 18 wheeler could also pose just such a hazard.

Students were placed in groups and would then form a course of action to address the situation, Lee said. Mitchell said during that situation assessment each student was asked to assume a role outside their professional standing, he chose to be an American Red Cross worker.

Most of the classes were taught by retired military personnel who were specialists in the fields they were instructing, which lead to a greater experience in the classroom, Mitchell said.

“They bring a lot of knowledge to the table, hands on knowledge,” Lee said.

While Picayune may not seem to be a major target for a WMD, Lee said there is no reason why a terrorist would not target this town or the surrounding area. Currently Keesler Airforce Base and Stennis Space Center are within close range, as is the city of New Orleans. Lee said if an event took place at one of those areas and Picayune was not affected, the local responders here could assist since they have had training.

This was Lee’s second trip to training offered at the complex, since they offer several different kinds of training. His first trip involved a hot training class where a live agent was lose in a controlled environment and students would suit up before entering the dangerous environment to attempt to contain it. Lee said the training involves blood tests before and after the class to ensure the student did not contract the agent. Agents used in the training are capable of killing hundreds of people, Lee said. Danny Manley and Kris Foster, who is currently the Fire Chief for the City of Poplarville, have also been to the live agent training.

Mitchell and four other fire department employees plan to attend another hot class in June.

“I would encourage any department that reads this to look into the this training. I highly recommend it,” Mitchell said about the various courses offered.