George Washington University officials said a training center to help firefighters, police and paramedics from the Washington area prepare for large-scale disasters, including terrorist attacks, will open at the Loudoun County campus in the spring.

Congress approved $5 million last month to establish the Response to Emergencies and Disasters Institute, which will be run by George Washington University with assistance from George Mason and Shenandoah universities.

Courses at the center will focus on all types of major emergencies, but it was the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the threat of additional terrorist attacks, including bioterrorism, that sparked creation of the center.

James A. Davis, Shenandoah University's president, said the need to provide additional training quickly for first responders has become increasingly clear as officials warn that a possible war with Iraq could spark more attacks.

"I think it's going to be very important if everything starts to pop in the next few weeks," Davis said. "That need is not going to go away as long as the threats resume."

Daniel J. Kaniewski, who directs George Washington University's Center for Emergency Preparedness, said the training will draw on resources of all three universities. Experts from George Washington's medical and public health schools, George Mason's nursing school and Shenandoah's pharmacy school will work together to provide training.

"There's a lot of experience, but they needed a way to work together," Kaniewski said. "They simply didn't have the bricks and mortar. There was no central training facility."

Kaniewski said a panel of experts at George Washington determined a need for regional training soon after Sept. 11, 2001, when they surveyed resources provided by public and private agencies in the Washington area. Although individual agencies offered training, there was little opportunity for drills across county or state lines.

"There really is a lack of first-responder training for the region, where they would train together as they would have to work together in a situation like 9/11," Kaniewski said.

The center, expected to open in a few months, will be housed at George Washington's Ashburn campus in a building that the university purchased from a failed technology company. The building has been outfitted with classrooms and computers.

Kaniewski said the first courses will be offered to traditional first responders -- paramedics, police and firefighters. Eventually, he said, the training will include public health officials, physicians and nurses. Later, the center will bring in veterinarians, public works officials and transportation officials.

The front-line workers will learn details about medical resources in the area, including proper responses to bioterrorism, the capacity of area hospitals and medication stockpiles. The center will also work to establish standard guidelines, or "best practices," for responding to major incidents, so emergency workers from different jurisdictions can work together more easily.

Center officials said they are working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice and the Office of Homeland Security. The Virginia Institute for Defense and Homeland Security at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon will play a role in the training.