5/28/2008 12:00 AM
Preparing for a disaster just got a little easier.
Dozens of people gathered Tuesday for the reopening of an expanded and updated training facility designed to keep first responders at their best.
Crews spent 18 months adding a second floor and dozens of technological upgrades to Texas Engineering Extension Service's Emergency Operation Training Center. The new facility is nearly double the size of the original.
"It's a proud day," Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney told the crowd. "This is the best asset -- the best non-athletic asset -- we have."
The facility, which is on Texas A&M property between Disaster City and the Brayton Fire Training Field, trains more than 3,000 first responders from across the country each year.
David Nock, training director of the facility, said the $4.4 million expansion gives trainers the ability to simultaneously communicate with the incident command post and the emergency operation center rooms.
The facility's control center is full of computers that simulate natural disasters and emergency scenarios.
"We are trying to fill a niche," Nock said. "We train for anything that could be a disaster, like tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, explosions, and gas leaks."
Two new courses, geared toward elected officials and multi-agency coordination, have also been added to the facility's training regimen.
Two new rooms in the expanded center replicate disaster situations. In one, a victim lies trapped underneath a pile of rubble and rescuers must determine the best course of action to save him. A second room is set up like a hospital room where responders will check vital signs and learn life-saving techniques.
Officials at Tuesday's ceremony said the real-life feel of the training center will translate to the field.
"I don't know what will happen -- a tornado, a hurricane or, God forbid, a terrorist attack -- but there will be lives saved," said U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco.
College Station's incoming police chief, Michael Ikner, said he participated in a course at the TEEX training center this year while he was an assistant chief in Arlington.
"It was tremendous training environment," Ikner said. "It's simulation-based, and it really helps you understand other roles better. We were placed in positions that we weren't normally in, and I now have a new appreciation for those in those roles."
Instructor Bill Long said these training courses are designed to train people to work as a unit.
"It's great to see 40 individuals who didn't know each other prior to the course, but when they leave they are working together as a solid team," Long said. "If they can take what they learned back home with them, it would make their world easier."