Area to Get Anti-terrorism Center

5/8/1998 12:00 AM

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said Thursday that a first-of-its-kind national anti-terrorism training center will be based in College Station, with the program run by an agency within the Texas A&M University System.

The Texas Engineering Extension Service–which Hutchison said is "second to none" for its emergency response training facilities and programs for firefighters, police and medical workers–soon will be teaching how to deal with domestic terrorism.

"One of the highest security risks our country faces is terrorism, especially with chemical and biological threats," Hutchison said, adding that Congress will earmark funds next year for the anit-terrorism center that will be built at the Texas Engineering Extension Service facility not far from Easterwood Airport.

It will be called the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, where high-tech tools and virtual reality simulators will become part of the training.

Plans already are underway for a disaster city–complete with realistic city buildings and simulated infrastructures with specialized props that can collapse to liken explosions.

The Texas Engineering Extension Service fire training center is where emergency first reponders now practice on a full-sized derailed Amtrak train and conduct scenarios on shoring buildings, heavy rescue and hazardous materials.

G. Kemble Bennett, Texas Engineering Extension Service director and associate vice chancellor of engineering for the A&M System, said Hutchison has positioned Texas as a national leader in the fight against terrorism.

"Foreign policy in the world is changing," Bennett said. "Before, the United States has had strength in its military might and its special task forces, which are sent into areas to protect this country, but there's a new threat and a new world order."

With terrorism acts like the deadly nerve gas disaster in a Japanese subway, the World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing and others, Bennett said it has become obvious that obtaining chemical or biological weapons is easily done.

"The question, when you talk to experts, is not 'Will there be a problem?' The question is, 'When will it be there?' " Bennett said. "We must be prepared. It's tragic, but necessary."

And while some military personnel are trained to deal with such situations, most city, county and state police and fire personnel are not. That's where the new anti-terrorism training center comes in.

"The first people who will have to deal with such destruction will be the local authorities," Bennett said. "Many lives depend on what our first responders do in the first few minutes after a terrorist strike. We cannot afford to send in responders who have little or no training in this critical area. There is too much at stake."

Bennett, who said the training will be done with the U.S. Department of Justice taking the lead role, said the classes will be taught with new technologies on detection, monitoring, evaluating and testing.

A curriculum currently is under construction, and to help that along, Congress created a group of five agencies with strong capabilities in the areas of first response and testing of weapons of mass destruction.

Bennett has been named to the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which includes the Texas Engineering Extension Service's new anti-terrorism center; the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Tech; the National Center for Bio-Med Research and Training at Louisiana State University; the National Center for Domestic Preparedness at Ft. McClellan, AL; and the Nevada Testing Site, which is a nuclear test area.

Cautioning that no real biological or chemical warfare will be practiced in College Station, Bennett said consortium members-charged with establishing a comprehensive national training program-already have met several times.

"The intent is to use the existing training network, Bennett said. "From here, we will focus on the curriculum and train-the-trainer programs, while testing and disseminating new technologies."

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