Training for large-scale incidents, at a fraction of the usual cost, whilst operating in an environment that exactly mimics the city the responders work in, might seem like a far-fetched idea. However, this is exactly how the incident commanders of the City of New York will be exercising in the very near future. Last year, the Office of Emergency Management signed a contract with the Simulation Division of Environmental Tectonics Corporation (ETC), as an integral component of the Citywide Incident Management System (CIMS). CIMS is New York’s programme for responding and recovering from major emergencies and managing planned events. It has been implemented to comply with the federally-mandated National Incident Management System (NIMS). ETC will be delivering the most advanced version of its simulation software ADMS-Command as yet, to ensure that all Incident Commanders in the Big Apple will get familiarised with the protocols contained in the CIMS.
President of ETC Simulation, Marco van Wijngaarden, is excited to work with such a high profile client, and he explains that the multi-disciplinary, high fidelity training platform was chosen by OEM because of the quality of the simulations, the high level of interactivity and its cost effectiveness. OEM’s incident commanders consist of representatives from the FDNY, NYPD, emergency medical responders, utilities, and other organisations that would be involved in major incidents. Live training exercises for this type of event cost between $150,000 and $700,000, therefore another solution had to be found to fulfil the OEM’s training needs. In order to get this software accepted by users, the OEM dictated that the synthetic environment had to be as lifelike as possible, and this also meant that all the incident response vehicles had to be recognised as being from New York. Further criteria involved one exercise controller to overview the exercising process, over a hundred response units built into the software, and seven very complex scenarios set in New York.
ETC is currently in the process of developing the response units, and a large number of these will be exact copies of FDNY vehicles, including ladder vehicles, incident command trucks and engine units. “An ambitious project and a huge job,” says Van Wijngaarden. “There is only one exercise controller who controls the simulation, and you would imagine this asks much of the simulation software. However, the artificial intelligence in our programmes can easily handle several complex real-time simulation streams at the same time. One of the unique aspects of ADMS-Command is that the virtual resources can find their own way to the incident, where they decide by themselves how to carry out the response, as would happen in real life.”
The system hardware consists of several stations, and a 180 degrees field-of-view screen that is viewed by the Incident Commanders. There are four more displays which are each meant for section heads of the different emergency services, such as fire, police, medical and utilities. This means that all sections can create their own clear operational picture. All participants use their own radio during the process, to pass on commands to the exercise controller who sends the units where they have been requested to go.
As mentioned, ETC is in the process of developing seven scenarios that are specific to New York. The first one entails an active shooter in a department store. The second incident involves a subway explosion with mass casualties. In the third scenario a container ship in the Port explodes and dangerous chemicals and fumes are released. The fourth scenario comprises a large road traffic accident on a highway. Number five is an incident in a storage tank complex near an airport, while six is an aircraft crash at an international airport. The last scenario is meant to train personnel that staff the evacuation centres that are set up in schools, where people gather to be transported out of the city in the event of a major storm threat.
Van Wijngaarden explains that ETC delivered a first version of the ADMS-Command exercise system to the OEM last year in order for the incident commanders to get used to it and to practise with it, while currently, ETC is developing the geo-specific locations and the incident response units for the final version. “Everything in the software looks exactly like real life in New York, to the most minute details such as street signs and shops. We develop our own 3-D environments, and for this we use our own software and our own techniques.
“We have shown the OEM the first database and vehicles, and I can honestly say everyone is impressed with the quality. Also, when you look at costs this is an investment that can be earned back within a couple of exercises, and soon they will have the ability to train all these complex scenarios in their own training centre in Brooklyn.”
New York’s customised ADMS-Command training system is due to be delivered end of summer 2009, after which ETC will keep delivering continued support and maintenance as part of the service package.