First responders can struggle to gain experience with large-scale emergencies, such as terrorism and natural disasters, due to their rare and unpredictable occurrence. Live simulations are an effective means of preparing rescue workers to navigate these events, but agencies are often deterred from conducting disaster simulations by financial constraints and concerns for the safety of both civilians and officers.
To overcome these challenges, organizations are investing in large multi-purpose facilities as a way to ensure more public safety workers can train for the complex and massive events they may encounter in the field.
Marines tackle specialized situations in “Disaster Disneyland”
Recently, the military presented real-life challenges to soldiers through simulations taking place on a large training facility in Georgia. CBS News reported that the Marines deployed a training exercise at the Guardian Centers, an 830-acre disaster preparedness and tactical training facility founded by Geoff Burkart.
“Hope is not a plan,” Burkart told CBS News. “An agency, an army will perform under great stress. They’ll perform to their lowest level of conditioned training. So the higher you can raise that bar, the better the response.”
Built on the grounds of a former missile plant, Burkart’s facility boasts a modern cityscape with 60 buildings of various sizes and a four-lane highway. Using hired actors to add realism through role-play, Guardian Centers hosts large-scale disaster exercises and kinetic operations training.
One such exercise is the Marines’ terrorism training dubbed “Disaster Disneyland.” Marines in a special unit known as the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) are asked to respond to the scene of a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb detonation in downtown Indianapolis, dealing with 17,000 casualties and radiation as if the terrorist event had really happened. Colonel Stephen Redifer, who leads the unit, explained that facility size is instrumental when introducing his specialists to dangers they will have to face in the line of duty.
“We have to go in and cover and search every single floor, every single building, every single closet,” Redifer told CBS News, “and it is just exhausting.”
Many departments benefit from immersive training centers
While seeing its fair share of sunshine and idyllic temperatures, California must also deal with earthquakes, wildfires and floods—all of which pose significant problems for citizens and emergency responders. Over the past several decades, officials in the state dedicated time and money to further expand training and relief efforts, but a plan proposed by state leaders could be one of the largest and most extensive yet.
According to The Sacramento Bee, emergency responders may soon rely on a “Total Disaster City” training site which emulates emergency situations likely to arise in California. The $56 million dollar facility, encompassing more than 53 acres, will host agencies that require specialized training scenarios, such as containing toxic substances spilled during a train derailment or rescuing passengers from a multi-car freeway crash.
“California doesn’t have these kinds of facilities in the state,” Tracey Hansen, president of the California Fire Chiefs Association, told The Sacramento Bee. “I see this [facility] as a needed opportunity.”
Public safety departments will be able to train away from civilian populations and interact with dangerous materials in a controlled environment. By supporting a variety of realistic emergency scenarios at the same location, the immense cost of the facility can be shared efficiently over time by many departments which benefit from disaster exercises of this scale.
Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Chief Kurt Henke, who is a key advocate for the center, explained to The Sacramento Bee that interest from public emergency response companies will grow as the facility expands. Donations of props, such as a 727 jet from Federal Express, demonstrate the value private companies see in giving first responders immersive training.
California is not alone. Officials in Adams County, Colorado, built the Flatrock Regional Training Center for law enforcement after 12 years of campaigning and millions of dollars in investments, according to local news source KDVR. Intended to be used by police officers from anywhere in the country, the expansive 400-acre facility has a large driving track, firing range and a simulator, plus room to accommodate future training innovations.
“It’s the fact you can come to one location and get all your training needs met, which is very rare for any training facility throughout the nation,” Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr told the source.
Investment in large-scale training facilities allows emergency responders to get first-hand experience handling life-or-death situations. The cost for public and private organizations to build well-equipped facilities may be significant, but the return on immersive training is a higher bar for responder preparedness that ultimately saves lives.
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