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Ref: New emergency preparedness center to open in Ohio community

Toledo Free Press

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Center for Emergency Preparedness to open

By Autumn Lee
Toledo Free Press Staff Writer

Owens Community College will open its $20.5 million state-of-the-art Center for Emergency Preparedness April 29, to offer concurrent training for multiple first responder agencies.

The 110-acre center will open with a ceremony and demonstrations from 1 to 4:30 p.m. located where Tracy Road and Walbridge Road converge. As part of the demonstrations, performing arts students will participate in a mock accident with Owens nursing students and multiple agencies responding to the scene.

Other demonstrations may include a tank truck fire, S.W.A.T. assault, collapse simulator with drug- and-omb-sniffing dogs, ProMedica air demonstration and more. Other events will include tours of the burn building, a DMORT trailer, emergency response vehicles and informational booths, a news release said.

Dr. Paul Unger, Owens executive vice president and provost, said the center has been a long-standing vision Owens prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Since the early 1990s, Owens wanted to develop a regional training site for first responders. However, he said since the terror attacks, Owens had to modify the plan to incorporate additional training sites to accommodate new threats.

Homeland Security has provided states with funding for equipment and training to bring them up to a level of readiness for emergency situations, he explained.

However, Unger noted a problem exists in that there has been a lack of facilities for people to train for such situations.

The Center for Emergency Preparedness is built around different kinds of emergencies and accidents that most commonly occur and types of disasters Homeland Security handles, Unger said. The center can provide an “unlimited” number of training scenarios that allow first responders to “engage in real life applications during their training.”

The center will feature full-size training props. These will include a flashover simulator, five-story burn building, tanker truck fire simulator, propane tank burn simulator, collapsed building tunnel system, confined space rescue area, gas station with car burn, dive and rescue pond and car extrication. Additional phases will consist of an emergency operations center, command and simulation center, mock city with retail, business and residential facades and (other) simulation scenarios.

Unger said the center would also include Ohio's Third Frontier Network: a national fiber-optic network used for research, education and economic development, which will allow area agencies to simulate exercises on emergency hazards, natural disasters and terrorist incidents through distance learning.

The center will have an impact on the area providing “high quality and comprehensive” concurrent training for first responders and by making the community safer, Unger said. He indicated the center has drawn attention from Brazil and across the United States with agencies from Texas, Florida and asking what departments they can bring to the facility.

Unger said he believes the proximity and the scale of the facility are some of the reasons it already has received national attention.

Visiting agencies have the potential to increase economic development, he said.

While those agencies stay in the area, they may choose to stay at area hotels, eat at local restaurants and enjoy local entertainment.

“We want to be recognized as a thoughtful facility with foresight ... [and] serve the region at a reasonable cost,” Unger said.

Potential expansion
Owens is looking into extending the facility with a storage and training operations building, Unger said.

He said that is still in the planning stages and Owens has been speaking with architects and evaluating associated costs.

Tom Pack, director of the center, said the center is designed to train emergency responders from all levels including private industry security, fire and police departments.

While agencies did train for emergency situations prior to Sept. 11, 2001, he said it was “rare and almost non-existent for them to train together.”

During that time, Pack said the agencies “did not know what to expect from each other,” as they had not trained together. As a result, there was “a lot of confusion.”

Since then, he said all levels of government, fire and police departments and others have realized the importance of working together.

Through concurrent training, those agencies will “know what the other departments do and what their functions will be during a disaster.”

Pack said an open area within the center might see future developments such as an aircraft simulator for fires, simulators for boarding aircraft, a ship simulator and a swift-water rescue simulator.

Owens is also in preliminary conversations with Toledo Edison about possibly developing electrical simulators, he said.

Michele Johnson, chairwoman for the School of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, provided information about academic benefits of the center.

Johnson said the center would be able to provide hands-on training for criminal justice, fire science and other students.

At the center, students can be exposed to realistic scenarios in addition to the textbook scenarios presented in the classroom, Johnson said.

Various training scenarios for the students can be set up.

For example, Johnson said in a bank robbery scenario, criminal justice students would learn first hand how to respond to the situation, enter the building and go through the negotiation process.

Students enrolled in the Fire Science program could repel down the burn building and put out a gas fire as opposed to a live burn.

As a component of this hands-on experience, Johnson said the students' performance could be critiqued back in the classroom after completing the procedures.

If the students are going to make a mistake, it is better for them to make it at the center, she said.

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