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Published: Friday, 1/3/2003

U of Findlay plans center to fight terrorism

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - When it comes to dealing with terrorism, the University of Findlay knows its place.

“We're not into the research on it. We're into the `roll up your sleeves and how do you deal with it?'” said President Ken Zirkle.

For over three years, the private university has trained people to deal with terrorism, partly at an outdoor facility spread over several acres here. It's all part of a program that is designated a bioterrorism response center by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now it aims to take the war against terrorism indoors.

The university plans to build what may be the country's largest indoor terrorism-response training facility, a 120,000-square-foot building that could include a city block inside, said Randy Van Dyne, assistant vice president and executive director of the school of environmental and emergency management.

Inside, emergency responders could train with a mock hospital, school, and a three-story building - all in conditions that can be controlled to simulate day or night, fog or smoke - even rain.

Mr. Van Dyne said he believes it would be the largest indoor facility of its kind in the nation. It would be available for use 24-hours a day, seven days a week and would be on 10 to 15 acres in the Findlay area, he said.

The $15 million to $20 million facility could be used for other training as well, with possible applications in reacting to earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters.

“It's where you can simulate almost any type of disaster activity that you want to simulate,” Dr. Zirkle said.

The university received a $1.6 million federal grant about a year ago to begin designing the project, which would be called the ALERT (Actual Learning Environment Response Training) Center.

At the time, U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley (R, Findlay) said the university is poised to play a leading role in protecting the citizens of Ohio and the United States against terrorism.

Mr. Van Dyne said he hopes more federal funding will make the rest possible.

While the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security gave Texas A&M University the inside track in homeland security research funds, one state official said he hopes the issue will be reopened so institutions like the University of Findlay could benefit.

“Most of us would like to see that spread across the country,” said Dale Shipley, executive director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. “I would just rather have some of that capability here in Ohio where it would be so much easier to coordinate and so much easier for responders to get to the site.”

Mr. Shipley said his agency is watching what happens in Findlay as well as in Ravenna, Ohio, where the National Guard leases an old munitions production factory that could be used for field training for first responders.

“Those are two sites that already have some beginnings,” he said. “We're just trying to increase the capabilities for emergency responders in the state.”

Owens Community College has proposed a $10 million fire, police, and homeland security training center for Wood County, but Mr. Van Dyne said he sees the Findlay facility as more extensive and serving a more national audience. “I see the facility in Toledo as more of a Toledo-area facility,” he said.

Having the ALERT center in Findlay would be a boon to local law enforcement agencies, such as the Hancock County sheriff's office.

“We pretty much have to find training elsewhere in the state,” Sheriff Michael Heldman said. “I think it's going to be a step up, something we never really had before.”

Dr. Zirkle, who testified before Congress in March about academic institutions' role in training emergency responders for terrorist attacks, said it is an unfortunate reality that so many resources need to be spent these days on preparing for terrorism. “This is something now that is not just a nice thing,” Dr. Zirkle said “It's become essential.”



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