More than 1,600 first responders have completed the all-hazards type-III communications unit leader (COML) training course, a program designed to improve multijurisdictional coordination among first responders at an incident, said Chris Essid, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Emergency Communications (OEC).

As part of the national emergency communications plan, the OEC offered 66 COML training courses nationwide to help public-safety professionals more effectively lead and coordinate communications during emergencies and large-scale events. Multijurisdictional events around the nation have demonstrated the benefits of consistent planning, training and operating procedures, Essid said. In fact, it was the emergency-response community that identified the need for COML training and helped DHS create the formal training program by building on the successful wildfire-scenario model.

“First responders helped us develop the materials for the course, so it focuses on right things,” Essid said. “We didn't guess. We went out and asked them to help us develop the course, and then we've been rolling it out.”

Specifically, participants are trained to set up communications at an incident in a standardized way, important because in a major event, emergency workers who respond from outside the area need to follow similar procedures, Essid said.

“If they all do it differently … it is chaos,” he said. “So the course promotes a standardized way at an incident and works within the existing structure of [National Incident Management System] and with the [Incident Command System] principles, as well.”

The training also focuses on interoperable communication systems, Essid said.

“The problem with interoperability, as we've heard from the first responders, is not the technology — it's the coordination, the training, the exercise and the standard operations,” he said. “You could have the greatest technology in the world, but if you don't know how to leverage that technology, it doesn't do you any good.”

COML training will continue through state-sponsored courses. Interested parties must first complete prerequisites for the class, such as the 100, 200, 700 and 800 NIMS training. Then, attendees go back to their specific department, set up mock multiagency communication incident and are certified by the police or fire chief.

States can formally request COML training through OEC's technical assistance program, or they can organize a class by contacting OEC for a list of approved instructors. Teachers travel across the country to conduct the free workshop, which usually can accommodate about 30 attendees.