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Anti-terrorism center proposed

August 14, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Local police officials said a proposed regional anti-terrorism training center at the former U.S. Army base in Cascade could play an important role in homeland security efforts and decrease training expenses for Washington County-area law enforcement and rescue agencies.

"It's a very good concept," Capt. Douglas Mullendore of the Washington County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday. "If we can land something like that here in Washington County, it would certainly be to our benefit."

Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri pitched the idea to the PenMar Development Corp. Board of Directors on Monday during closed session, Board Chairwoman Paula Lampton said this week.

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PenMar was created to redevelop the former base when the U.S. Army shut it down in 1998.

Altieri proposed that a Combined Regional Emergency Services Training Center (CREST) open at the former base as part of HCC's continuing education program.

The program would provide training in responding to terrorist attacks, biological and chemical weapons use, plane crashes and other police, fire and rescue emergencies, according to a copy of Altieri's plan.

His idea was modeled after the CREST center that opened in Auburn Hills, Mich., HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

The plan states that training fees for the center would cover instructional and operational costs and that PenMar and HCC also could seek financial support from the state and federal governments.

Mullendore and Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said the demand for specialized training dealing with homeland security is on the rise, creating a need for such a facility.

"Our world is not going to be the same ever again," Mullendore said. "Law enforcement is going to have to take the lead to protect our borders and our territories."

Smith said a local center would reduce training costs for the Hagerstown Police Department. City police officers often must travel out of town for training programs, racking up costly lodging and other expenses, he said.

Smith and Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said if the training center were to open, PenMar and HCC should make sure it doesn't overlap with programs offered at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.

PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said the HCC Board of Trustees agreed to look into the project. He said the former base already has the infrastructure to open a CREST center.

Lampton said the proposal was one of several PenMar hears on a regular basis.

"PenMar's open to all kinds of facilities," Lampton said. "We're really open to the best fit, which is exciting. It gives us a lot of opportunities."

Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson said he opposes a CREST center because he thinks the county would end up paying for a lot of the costs.

"I don't think we need that," Munson said. "We got enough money going into fire and rescue. I think what we have now is adequate."

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