The problem for CDP officials is that even when funding doesn’t rise, training costs do.
“We always have to factor increased training cost into our budgets,” CDP spokesman Derek Jensen said. “That’s why we try to figure out the ways we can save money…we’ve had to do that to ensure we’re operating as efficiently as possible.”
Since 1998, the CDP has provided free, hands-on emergency response training to public safety workers and first-responders from all over the country. The 4,500 training courses the center provides each year are primarily taught by instructors employed by contractors — like Virginia-based Science Applications International Corp. — who have agreements with the CDP.
The increased training costs to which Jensen refers are based in part on those CDP contracts, which include escalation clauses that require the CDP to pay the contractors more each year they provide services to the facility.
Jensen couldn’t provide numbers on how much the training costs have risen since 2008 or what officials expect costs to look like in 2012.
He said that, regardless of what those numbers look like, he and other CDP officials remain committed to providing first-rate, hands-on training to first-responders at no cost to them.
“We support the president’s FY 2012 budget request…we’ll continue to provide training,” Jensen said.
Nathan Hill, the military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern over the level funding proposed for the CDP in 2012.
“Escalation clauses based on contracts take away from some of what you want to do in terms of training,” Hill said. “If you have escalation clauses … and you stay level, your buying power is going to go down.”
Jensen said CDP officials couldn’t speculate on whether they expect to cut down on the number of specialized, live-action classes they provide in 2012.
Those classes at the old Noble Army Hospital and the COBRA facility give CDP trainees the chance to respond to simulated mass casualty disasters, not to mention real chemical nerve agents; they’re also the most expensive courses for the CDP to provide.
But they’re also what makes the CDP unique — no other facility in the country has an entire hospital for training purposes or allows civilian responders to handle chemical agents.
That quality makes those classes a priority — it’s why CDP officials are looking at ways to consolidate and cut some of their off-site courses they provide in other states around the country.
“Over the past two years we’ve continued to develop ways to increase our efficiencies,” Jensen said.
Other than consolidating those “mobile” courses, officials are also consolidating CDP computer servers, using free Internet phone and voice services to communicate with their Federal Emergency Management Agency sponsors in Washington D.C. and trying to come up with ways to cut down on utiltity and facility maintenance costs.
Officials don’t know yet if their cost-cutting measures will mitigate rising training costs — not to mention the widely predicted rising costs of fuel and food that will make it more expensive for the CDP to transport responders to Anniston and board them at the McClellan facility — but they do believe those “efficiency” measures will help increasing the buying power of the $62.5 million they could receive in FY 2012.
Help could also come through Congressman Mike Rogers.
When Congress gave the CDP that same level funding during the continuing resolution year of 2011, Rogers was able to acquire an additional $3 million from the Department of Homeland Security to go towards operation and maintenance costs for the McClellan facility.
Rogers said he hopes to do that again for FY 2012.
“Our best case scenario is to get them level-funded and get them some O&M (operation and maintenance) money,” Rogers told The Star. “The CDP is a huge economic engine for us, and I think folks need to be more aware of that.”
Hill agreed, noting that the CDP employs about 1,100 county, contract and federal workers.
He said CDP’s economic impact on Calhoun County is about $99 million to $100 million a year.
“It’s certainly a great asset both from an economic standpoint and a national and strategic standpoint,” Hill said.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.