Test Track Eyed for Preparedness Consortium

Nov. 11--Already considered a world-class training center for emergency response teams, Pueblo's Transportation Technology Center could soon become part of a nationwide network of institutions devoted to preparedness.

Members of Colorado's Congressional delegation this week introduced measures in both houses to make the local facility part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, a small group of institutions that develop, test and deliver training to state and local emergency responders.

This year, the consortium was awarded $145 million in federal funds for research and training.

On Wednesday, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, introduced legislation to include TTC in the consortium, and on Thursday three House members from Colorado submitted a similar measure.

Democrat John Salazar, whose district includes the transportation center, and Republicans Bob Beauprez, who represents the Denver area and Adams County, and Marilyn Musgrave, whose district covers much of the eastern plains, all backed the House bill.

"I think this could create a lot of business for people there," Allard said Wednesday.

He said TTC is an ideal location for training because of its remoteness on the prairie east of Pueblo. "It's just tailored for a lot of railroad training," he said.

Allard was optimistic that the bill would be approved because it doesn't carry a fiscal impact and "we're not talking about a new program."

Salazar, who also is backing funding of an above-ground subway training facility, said, "This legislation will help not just Pueblo, but communities around the country in places like Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana. We're looking to build a bipartisan coalition and I'm reaching out to our other colleagues to support our efforts."

An Emergency Response Training Center has been operated at Pueblo center for 20 years, teaching railroad employees, police, firemen and industrial workers how to respond to train, truck and even barge accidents. Each year about 1,500 people go through the programs.

Allard added, "Although it consists of an impressive array of training facilities, the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium lacks a facility that is uniquely focused on railroad and mass transit emergency preparedness. That is the precise mission of the Transportation Technology Center, which I believe will fill a critical gap in our current Homeland Security training agenda.

"This should be of interest to anyone who lives near a railroad line or who uses mass transit. Those two categories encompass most people in the United States," Allard said. "This is a high priority homeland security concern."

Ruben Pena, manager for business development at the rail research facility, said that being part of the consortium would mean a large amount of federal money available for people to take the training.

"We're very extremely happy," said Pena, who added that if the bill is approved, it could mean a lot more business for Pueblo hotels and restaurants. "Last year, we had about 9,000 room-nights for 1,500 students," he said.

"There are a lot of people right now who want to come in and they cannot because they don't have the funding."

Transportation Technology Center, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, has been pushing for membership in the consortium for some time but the other members have resisted it, Pena said, even though "as far as we know, none of the consortium members specialize in rail."

The Transportation Technology Center is a former Department of Transportation facility now operated by the AAR's TTCI subsidiary while still owned by the Federal Railroad Administration. The company does on- and off-site research and testing on trains, rail and other technology for members of the AAR, the Federal Railroad Administration, and a growing number of outside clients, including some in foreign countries.

"This is a very elite group of institutions, which I believe will be strengthened by what TTC can add with its training and preparedness offerings," Allard said. "It is regarded as the 'graduate school' of hazmat training because of its focus on hands-on, true-to-life, training exercises on actual rail vehicles, including tank cars and passenger rail cars.

"The distinctive environment of TTC allows testing and training activities to be carried out at a remote Colorado location without disruption to the flow of passenger and rail traffic in and around urban areas. Its inclusion in the consortium presents a unique opportunity to enhance technology and training that will improve our nation's ability to prevent, minimize and respond to potential terrorist attacks similar to those recently seen in London and Madrid."

The Center for Domestic Preparedness in Fort McClellan, Ala., which provides advanced, hands-on training to members of the emergency response community in the areas of command, advanced hazmat and tactical operations.

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, serving as the lead partner for explosives, firearms and incendiary devices training.

Louisiana State University, providing training and expertise in the areas of law enforcement, bioterrorism, agricultural terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and mass casualty incidents.

Texas A&M University System, offering national weapons of mass destruction preparedness training for all emergency response disciplines, and a structural collapse technician course to build state capabilities for urban search and rescue operations.

The Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site that conducts radiological and nuclear training via mobile training teams, and conducts train-the-trainer courses for first responders across the country.

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