When a major incident garners worldwide attention in your backyard, it can influence your readiness capabilities for generations to come.
The Centennial Park terrorist bombings during the 1996 summer Olympic games in Atlanta did not cause neighboring Cobb County to form a hazmat team — one had been in place for 15 years. But more than 25 years later the regional emergency response leaders are still thinking about terrorism and Cobb County’s hazmat team is in the middle of it all.
The Cobb County Hazardous Materials Response Team (HMRT) works with local fire, police, bomb squad, Army 4th Civil Support Team, industrial companies and private entities. It is active in the Metro Atlanta UASI Hazmat/CBRNE Committee, coordinating needs and response capabilities with other metro teams. It trains internally and externally for threats great and small.
The team was formed in 1981 across three entities with a $55,000 grant to buy equipment. If there was a call, six people from around the department would respond.
That evolved into one Cobb County team housed at two locations with two full sets of response gear and equipment. Daily staffing consists of a minimum of 12 hazmat techs to fill every response role and supplemental positions filled with operations level field personnel with mission-specific training. This staffing model allows the team to respond quickly to small incidents and have enough resources to throw at larger ones.
Team members are cross trained to provide EMS care, fire and rescue, ARFF, and Type 1 hazmat response for CBRNE and toxic industrial emergencies.
HMRT also provides surrounding jurisdictions with hazmat mitigation support, decontamination services, highway MVC response, residential and commercial gas leak response, air monitoring, equipment expertise and calibration, field training for non-hazmat crews, and continuing education for its members and other responders in the Metro Atlanta area. Future plans include moving toward permanent staffing on hazmat units.
The team conducts weekly training at the station level. The goal is to have team-wide training every Friday on all three shifts. This generally consists of hands-on drills, monitor and equipment familiarization and computer-based and virtual-lead classes. They strive to conduct two annual drills that often combine surrounding jurisdictions and involve the Army 4th Civil Support Team from Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
One unique aspect that drives the team’s training and response is Truist Park where the Atlanta Braves play. HMRT prepares for potential terrorist activity by training with law enforcement, bomb squad, K9 and the Army 4th CST. This is essential for the growth of the Joint Hazard Assessment Teams. HMRT has a strong working relationship with the Army 4th CST, one of the nation’s leading weapons of mass destruction and hazardous materials teams.
HMRT is especially proud of two major wins. The first is creating and implementing WMD preventive mission guideline for terroristic events including radiological, chemical and biological response and detection with preemptive strike teams. The collaboration and communication described above has improved greatly over the years. This improvement has enhanced their overall mission of life safety and incident prevention. Additionally, it has generated a solid working relationship with the EOD.
The second win is enhancing and upgrading natural gas leak guidelines for residential and commercial response. The team provided combustible gas detectors to every territory in the county along with providing mission-specific training to the entire department, and updated response procedures. This provided crews with improved confidence and strengthened appropriate mitigation actions.
Whether it is staying on top of residential natural gas leak response or planning and training for a major terrorist event, Cobb County’s hazmat team is taking its game a level up.