Emergency responders train on gamelike but realistic software
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Modeling and simulation software used to help train emergency responders may become more gamelike, said Dr. James A. Wall, director of the Computing and Information Technology Division in the Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT), the applied research arm of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). "That's where a lot of interest is now," he said. "How can we use games?" Wall helps define requirements for modeling and simulation software as a member of the Modeling and Simulation Technical Working Group in the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. This fall NIJ will give the simulation software "Incident Commander," for which Wall was a resource, to emergency responders. "Incident Commander" depicts crises such as hurricanes and terrorism so emergency responders can test their reactions to the crises. A simulation developed by BreakAway Games, it is like a video game, he said. At TCAT, Wall has helped develop EOTCSim, a simulation software to help train emergency responders that looks like the video game "SimCity." Whereas "SimCity" is for single players, Wall said, EOTCSim, an acronym for Emergency Operations Training Center Simulation, is for team players. EOTCSim helps train emergency responders such as firefighters and police officers at the Enhanced Incident Management/Unified Command Course (Enhanced IM/UC) taught by the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center of the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). "They (TEEX) are the domain experts," he said. "We are the technology experts." In the course, 40 emergency responders are split into teams that react to terroristic crises depicted by EOTCSim. Emergency responders at an Enhanced IM/UC on Aug. 10 reacted to an automobile crash that escalated to bioterrorism, all of which were depicted by EOTCSim: * An automobile crashed into a telephone pole that crashed into an attic and sparked a fire. The emergency responders sent firefighters to the attic. Icons on their computer screens drove toward the attic. * Firefighters found two corpses who had died of pneumonic plague in an apartment beneath the attic. The emergency responders sent police officers and public health officials to quarantine two blocks on all sides of the apartment. A circle was drawn on their computer screens to represent the quarantine. * Police officers suspected an apocalyptic Alabamian caused the automobile crash to spread pneumonic plague. The emergency responders sat in front of their computer screens and asked one another if they should send for the FBI. Wall said EOTCSim depicts terroristic crises more realistically than other simulation software that helps train emergency responders. It is "simulation for stimulation" that results in "virtual veterans" who have reacted to terroristic crises in real time. "With simulation, you get appropriate feedback about the quality of your decision," he said. "Therefore, it is more meaningful." In addition to EOTCSim, TCAT has either developed or been involved in the development of modeling and simulation software for NIJ as well as the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army. As the state's engineering research agency and as a member of The Texas A&M University System, TEES provides practical solutions to critical needs. From its headquarters in College Station and its 15 regional divisions, TEES identifies and studies areas critical to the state's economic development and quality of life, researches and promotes new technologies, helps communities strengthen science and technology education, investigates problems that affect health and the environment and fosters partnerships between academia and industry.