Graves and his colleagues were told to return to Washington immediately, with a police escort all the way.
When they arrived, he said, some firefighters deployed straight to the Pentagon, while others dispersed to fill in gaps in personnel. After the attacks, he said, “We found ourselves in a completely different world.”
The events of Sept. 11 sparked major change for first responders across the nation and for the fledgling facility tucked away on the former Fort McClellan, which celebrated its 15th anniversary with a ceremony on Monday that was attended by staff, current and former trainees and local officials.
“We saw ourselves become even more viable and fulfill that capacity,” said L.Z. Johnson, the center’s first director, in his remarks at the ceremony. Media requests poured in, after the attacks, he said, as did funding and requests for training.
In the year after the attacks, the CDP trained 5,000 first responders — as many as it had trained since it offered its first course in June 1998. Fifteen years later, focus on domestic preparedness and participation at the CDP has ballooned; more than 775,000 students have prepared to respond to such events there.
The center, which offers response training for mass casualty events and other hazards, is the only facility that offers first responders the opportunity to train with live chemical agents and non-pathogenic biological agents at its Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility. At the Noble Training Facility, which was integrated into the center in 2007, medical personnel have the opportunity to train in realistic conditions in a formerly functioning hospital.
CDP students have used their training responding to such incidents as the Boston Marathon bombings, the mass movie theater shooting last year in Aurora, Colo., and the 2011 tornadoes in Alabama and Joplin, Mo.
As students continue to stream through the CDP, staff are looking to continue to advance and expand the curricula offered there.
King said staff is working to create certificate programs that link individual courses into cumulative programs. Staff are also working to add such offerings as a biological agent-specific course, a mass casualty decontamination course and its first web-based training course.
“The CDP is obviously not coasting into the future,” he said. “The staff is pushing for even more innovation and advancement of our curriculum to meet the growing demand of our stakeholders to be prepared to address the significant threats our nation is facing.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.