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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Mexico State University to train first responders for nuclear terrorism

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, recently awarded New Mexico State University's College of Business Administration and Economics a $200,000 anti-terrorism grant to train New Mexico emergency workers for incidents of known or suspected nuclear terrorism.

Oliver and Kerry Alt, both assistant professors in the business computer systems program, will train emergency response personnel to use the Sandia Hazard Assessment and Response Capability (SHARC) software package developed by Sandia National Laboratories and NMSU.

NMSU developed all the user interface, the Graphical Information System and other software components that support Sandia's physics models, Alt said.

The software will be distributed free to appropriate first responders as identified by New Mexico's Department of Homeland Security.

The software "will allow first responders to assess possibly affected areas and plan traffic routing and possibly evacuation in the event of an accident involving radioactive material or a suspected incident of nuclear terrorism," said Alt, who has managed the development of the package for about nine years.

Oliver said NMSU will develop and present four two-day training sessions on how to use the SHARC software during the summer of 2004.

"Participants will learn how to enter environmental and device parameters to the SHARC software and how to interpret outputs," he said. "We will use tabletop WMD (weapons of mass destruction) exercises or scenarios via the Internet to maintain these newly developed skills."

First responders will be given a terrorist scenario to solve and they will submit their results for critique and analysis, Oliver said.

"There is a significant need for this type of training across the entire country," Oliver said. "Therefore, we are proposing a second contract with the Department of Homeland Security to package the SHARC training course into a 'train-the-trainer' course. We will present this training in large metropolitan areas of the nation during the next three years."

People who successfully complete the course will be qualified to present the SHARC training in their own local area, Oliver said. In this manner, first responders for nuclear terrorism can be trained nationwide in a relatively short period of time.

"Future releases of the SHARC software will contain emergency response information for chemical and biological events as well as the current nuclear capability," Alt said.

Sandia and NMSU have been working on this project since 1994. There are currently four full-time developers at NMSU working on the project.