Hazardous material response training is a must for SWAT teams. Although it is often decreased due to budget constraints, hazSWAT training is often covered by grant funding.
Beyond initial training, agencies should establish an appropriate program to keep first responders safe. Dowe recommends agencies have a program coordinator and people that are dedicated to the program and understand the equipment. He also advises cooperation with other agencies trained in hazardous materials.
"It is extremely important that any agency going to be involved in a tactical WMD response work closely with its local or regional fire department hazardous materials team," he says. "It's an excellent resource to provide subject matter expertise, technical resources, monitoring/detection during a suspected or actual event and logistical support. You should also have other WMD capable SWAT teams on scene to assist."
Dowe also recommends establishing protocols. "A SWAT/tactical team cannot merely don PPE equipment without certain protocols being established and followed during a deployment," he says. "This includes but is not limited to establishing decontamination prior to entering the hot zone, ensuring that a backup team of tactical operators and PPE is available to affect a rescue of a downed officer so they can safely and expeditiously remove them for decontamination by the hazmat team and treatment by fire rescue paramedics who are on standby."
Departments must also have SWAT-appropriate equipment. "It is important for teams to assess their equipment needs," Dowe explains. "They must also ensure that all APRs and SCBAs are CBRN-certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for deployment into an environment where the WMD threat has expanded. This standard did not exist prior to 2001 but will be mandatory on all future SCBAs."
Due to financial concerns, Dowe recommends agencies buy training suits in addition to operational suits. Training suits mirror the functionality of operational suits (which cost around $2,400) but are cheaper and can be washed several times.
"We can't protect the citizen without the equipment," stresses Dowe. "It's not always going to be al-Qaeda parachuting into Fort Lauderdale, but it could be a crazy guy waving around a bag of powder. [Agencies] can't say 'it's never going to happen here.' "
According to Shoaf, intelligence shared between local, state and federal agencies has increased due to understanding the realistic threat of hazardous incidents. "[In prior training, we spent] 2 hours out of an 8-hour day explaining why we should train on this. Now there is a common understanding the threat does exist," he says. "Now we can focus on safe response."
"We cannot just put our gear on and go running in to affect a rescue," Dowe concludes. "We insure the appropriate resources are in place [such as PPE, hazmat] and do so safely and tactically."
Michelle Perin worked as a telecommunications operator with the Phoenix Police. Currently, she is working on her master's in Criminology and writes full-time. For more information, visit www.thewritinghand.net.