Training center against terror

`Simulated city' planned at APG post to learn prevention or response in case of an attack

March 29, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,SUN REPORTER

Developers are planning a training center at Aberdeen Proving Ground where trainees could learn to prevent or respond to terrorist attacks and other emergencies through drills at an urban assault village as well as a mock airport or rail station, Army officials announced yesterday.

The Army selected APG Development Partners, a joint venture of Bethesda-based developer LCOR and Weston Solutions, to develop and operate the estimated $350 million "simulated city." It will be equipped to train tens of thousands of people each year from government and private sectors.

The center is expected to be the largest high-tech counterterrorism facility of its kind in the United States, the developers said. They're proposing several million square feet of classroom, training, lodging and office space in about 35 buildings on 1,300 acres of the 72,000-acre military post.

"No one has combined this density and amount of training assets in one place and coupled it with all the lodging necessary and support necessary," said Thomas Swoyer Jr., a managing partner for Weston's enhanced use leasing group. "We will have virtual reality training, with Hollywood soundstages that can replicate almost any kind of environment."

The developers have signed a memorandum of agreement with U.S. Army Garrison Aberdeen Proving Ground, which maintains and operates APG, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The agreement kicks off a four-month process to develop a business and lease plan for the property.

The developer is to lease the land from the Army, finance the project and operate it.

The Center for Security Training and Technology is expected to generate several hundred permanent jobs. The goal is to bring together government, private sector and academic trainers and trainees in a center for hands-on and classroom training, technology development and research.

Training will come through simulated emergencies that take place at a mock airport with terminals and security checkpoints or a maritime center. A mock urban village will spread over four city blocks with schools, malls and churches. The center also will include driving courses and shooting ranges.

Trainees will stay in dormitory-style lodging and have access to on-site dining, fitness and recreation facilities.

Swoyer said he envisions the center being used by trainees from private sector security organizations, state and local law enforcement and emergency responders, medical technicians and counterterrorist specialists from local, state and federal government. Courses would range in length from a few days to several weeks.

"We got into this project because we believe there's a substantial need for coordinated training services and facilities," he said. "A lot of training centers focus on one or two training assets we're looking at, but we're talking about bringing in all aspects our country is engaged in, from the counterterrorism standpoint to intelligence gathering to sensor and technology development to detection equipment and procedures."

Robert Small, president of the Maryland Fire Chiefs Association, said that training for firefighters in Maryland is offered through the University of Maryland, including live fire training and classroom sessions.

Small said some terrorism-related training is offered by out-of-state programs. But he was not aware of any permanent center geared for a cross-section of emergency workers, including a mock city.

"If [the Aberdeen program] is offered to the fire service, I'm sure we'd take full advantage," he said. "The biggest problem is who would pay for it."

The Army selected the APG Development Partners after a nationwide search that kicked off last fall. George Mercer, chief of public affairs for the proving ground, said he did not know how many developers bid on the project.

"The concept of an enhanced-use lease is a way for the army to develop and make sure that piece of land stays functional and is compatible with what we do here," Mercer said. "The compatibility is certainly an important piece of the picture. The idea of a counterterrorism training facility has been in the air for some time."

LCOR, as managing partner of the project, is to secure financing and oversee design, construction, marketing and operating and maintaining the facility.

Weston, based in West Chester, Pa., will be a financial partner and offer technical and project support, including any environmental remediation.

The company invests in properties with environmental problems, such as contamination, or other impediments to development, and helps prepare the properties for redevelopment.

Since the area was used for military testing, Swoyer said it might contain unexploded ordnance. Weston has other environmental contracts at Aberdeen.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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