County tries virtual terror training
- By Brian Robinson
- Oct 25, 2001
Florida's Osceola County is looking to virtual reality tools to help it
test the terrorism section of its Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan
(CEMP), the detailed strategy all municipal organizations have to prepare
and keep up-to-date.
Given the potential scope of emergencies — something the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon highlighted — it's becoming
clear that old "sandbox and slide show" methods of emergency response training
cannot handle the complex plans organizations now have to put in place.
Osceola chose Environmental Tectonics Corp.'s Advanced Disaster Management
Simulator (ADMS) to help with its training and CEMP validation. The simulator
involves real-life representations of various threats that teams of emergency
personnel can view and interact with in a large virtual reality theater
specifically built for that purpose by Environmental Tectonics.
"Having something that you can use repetitively, and that provides a
safe environment for teaching people when to do or not do something during
an emergency, is a phenomenal advantage," said Matt Meyers, director of
Osceola County's Office of Emergency Management. "My mind has been spinning
since the very first time we used it."
The system gives people the kind of experience and skills they can only
learn by being forced into making decisions, he said, "and that's much more
than paper and classroom teaching can provide."
ADMS offers governments a mechanism for performing online drills of
emergency responses at a fraction of the cost it would take to conduct physical
simulations using props, actors and other expensive resources, said Shabbir
Merchant, president of Environmental Tectonics' simulation group. It allows
people to get close to the threats posed by a real incident, he said, "and
that just can't be done by a guy sitting in front of a workstation."
Although county officials' decision to use ADMS predated the Sept. 11
attacks, Meyers believes those events will only serve to highlight the importance
of virtual reality training. The scope of the attacks and their results
— something Meyers saw for himself on a visit to "ground zero" in New York
— is something "you can't duplicate without using virtual reality," he
said. "You just can't teach all of the possibilities without it."
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.
Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.