Studying Hazardous Material Protective Gear in Action

A representative from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL – headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) – recently teamed up with a group of federal emergency responders for five days of hands-on training at the U.S. Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) and its Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological Training Facility (COBRA-TF). The center, located in Anniston, Alabama, manages the nation’s toxic chemical agent training facility for federal, state, and local emergency responders. In mid-July, the NIOSH representative was embedded to gain an understanding of the CDP’s utilization protocols for the employment of military-specified nuclear, biological, and chemical personal protective equipment (PPE) currently in use at the facility.

Since 1998, the CDP, a major component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has prepared emergency responders and public health professionals to recognize, prevent, protect, respond to, mitigate, and recover from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear or explosive (CBRN/E) mass-casualty all-hazards incidents. The CBRN/E all-hazards approach uses experienced responders to instruct tailored curricula via the use of traditional room lectures – followed by hands-on training with participants wearing the protective equipment used in performance-based, scenario-driven training lanes stressing public safety best-practice tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The participants in the mid-July course successfully completed hazardous materials evidence collection actions and hazardous materials technician operations for CBRN/E incidents. The two courses combined to deliver five days of intense specialized training in blended civilian-military chemical, biological, and radiological terrorism incident-response operations. The evidence collection course consisted of sixteen contact hours in law enforcement techniques followed by twenty-four contact hours in hazardous materials recognition operations related to industrial hazards and chemical, biological, and radiological terrorism incidents. The entire course was tailored to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) technician requirements. The week’s training culminated in six contact hours of toxic chemical warfare agent training at the COBRA training facility – formerly known as the U.S. Army’s chemical decontamination training facility (CDTF).

A 12-Step Standard & Next-Generation Equipment Throughout the week, participants were given the opportunity to apply the skills and techniques taught, including: (a) the use of a 12-step crime-scene search protocol; (b)entifying ways that terrorists might produce and use agents; (c) conducting rescue, recover, cutout, and decontamination actions (on a non-ambulatory mannequin); (d) operating direct-read hand-held air/liquid sampling instruments to recognize a “hit” from numerous toxic agent sources; and (e)entifying criminal or suspect material and components using known commonentifiers found in clandestine chemistry-set style laboratories.

The completion of these all-hazards training tasks, regardless of their complexity, required both team and participant self-focus coupled with the use of an experienced chemical agent specialist approach to maintain proficiency while working in the individual protective postures required for non-agent as well as live-agent training environments. Attendees and workers alike witnessed the controlled transfer of live toxic nerve agents in support of the sanctioned training objectives designed to increase user confidence in PPE, user proficiency in agent detection tasks, and team communications while wearing encapsulating protective ensembles.

The FEMA CDP has implemented, and long recognized, the paramount importance of occupational safety requirements for attending responders, assigned instructors, and contracted workers. The center’s transition from the current use of military-specified PPE in the training facility to the next-generation equipment – addressed in OSHA, NIOSH, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and regulations – is an historical benchmark for FEMA, CDC, and NIOSH. A successful transition is expected to allow the center to have a first-time use of NIOSH-approved chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear air-purifying respirators (CBRN APR) worn with a baseline National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1994 Standard on Protective Ensembles for First Responders to CBRN Terrorism Incident compliant suit/ensemble technology.

Consensus Standards & a Common Starting Point The new training PPE configuration and use can affect responders in three ways: (1) It is intended to integrate equipment items that represententical replicas or surrogates of CBRN PPE, technology, and clothing covered by current regulatory and consensus standards; (2) It is also expected to provide a common training starting point for responders tasked to train and operate in CBRN dual-purpose protective equipment postures within the legal requirements of a local jurisdiction; and (3) It may ultimately enhance the survivability of public safety workers in a terrorism incident while improving the training academy curriculums conducted at state, local, tribal, and territorial levels of the public sector.

When selected and validated, an NFPA 1994 chemical/biological protective ensemble – modified to align with site-specific considerations unique to the FEMA training facility – is expected to consist of a CDP-specific NIOSH CBRN APR and a CDP-specific NFPA 1994:2007/2012 edition chemical/biological ensemble and/or similar non-NFPA ensemble consisting of a full-face tight-fitting respirator, suit, boots, and gloves (identified in a consensus FEMA CDP protocol focused on training re-use actions currently used in the COBRA-TF).

The PPE selection and re-use tasks are components of an interagency agreement that was established on 12 May 2011 between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the CDC’s NIOSH/NPPTL, and the FEMA CDP. The ultimate outcome is intended to be the development of FEMA CDP requirements, guidelines, or procedures for the selection and evaluation of replacement PPE and the use and re-use of CDP-specific PPE that rely on baseline NIOSH-approved CBRN APR and NFPA 1994 or OSHA-compliant ensemble technology criteria and standards. 

For additional information on relevant projects click on the below hypertext, CRBN Respiratory Protection Program Designs CBRN Respirator Human Performance Training Standard Development

The author wishes to acknowledge the administrative support provided for the preceding article from: Derek Jensen and Shannon Arledge of the CDP in Anniston; Terry Tincher of the CDC’s Environmental Public Health Readiness Branch; and Craig Moulton, OSHA Senior Industrial Hygienist in Washington, D.C.

Terrence K. Cloonan

Terrence K. Cloonan is a physical scientist in the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), NIOSH, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has 23 years of federal service – including duty during the Cold War, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Urgent Democracy, and the 2001 World Trade Center response. For the past ten years he has conducted occupational safety work for NIOSH stakeholders in CBRN respirator evaluation, testing, and user guidance development. Since 2007, he has been a federal liaison to the training and exercises subgroup of the InterAgency Board (IAB) and actively participates in the development of consensus standards with the NFPA and NIJ. In 2009, he was made an honorary member of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). On 12 May 2011 he was identified as the lead NIOSH/NPPTL federal liaison to the DHS FEMA CDP CBRN program update project.



No tags to display


Translate »