A simulation-training suite called the virtual emergency response
training simulation (VERTS), is being designed for use by National
Guard and Reserve weapons of mass destruction-civil support teams
(WMD-CSTs). These specially trained units have been assigned responsibility
to intervene in cases of domestic terrorist attacks involving nuclear,
biological or chemical (NBC) weapons.
The first trial training system is scheduled for delivery to the
New York City area WMD-CST during the first quarter of 2001, according
to a spokesman for the Army Simulation Training and Instrumentation
Command (STRICOM) in Orlando, Fla. The trainer will be assigned
to the 2nd WMD-CST Military Support Detachment, at Scotia Air National
Guard Base, N.Y.
A second VERTS station will be located at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.,
home to the U.S. Army Chemical School. A third VERTS suite will
be situated at STRICOM. In addition, a partial VERTS suite will
be installed at the Advanced Distributed Learning Collaborative
Laboratory (ADL Co-Lab), at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA),
in Alexandria, Va.
Once in place, these four VERTS stations can then be linked to
form a distributed learning tool, thus enabling dispersed units
to train together in a virtual environment.
Virtual urban models of New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles
and Washington, D.C.—including streets, trees, vehicles, and
buildings—are being developed at IDA, officials reported.
One model has already been put to use. A copy of virtual Los Angeles
was made available to the local sheriff’s office to aid in
security preparations for this year’s Democratic National
VERTS allows CST units to do much of their training in private,
said Matt Kraus, program manager for human simulation and VERTS
project director for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC),
in Orlando. This, he said, “does not alarm the public or educate
our enemies about how we will respond and what our capabilities
VERTS trainers will be located inside National Guard Armories or
on Air Guard bases, he said. The plan is for 32 CST units to have
individual VERTS systems by 2006.
Congress established the CSTs in 1998, when it appropriated funds
for 10 teams. Those teams now are certified and in operation. Another
17 CSTs are in training. Five more CST teams are planned, but have
not yet been funded by Congress, said Col. Jay S. Steinmetz, VERTS
Steinmetz directs the Consequence Management Program, in the Pentagon’s
Office of Military Support. During the planning for the 1996 Summer
Olympics, Steinmetz advised local authorities in Atlanta on the
possibility of WMD attacks.
Each VERTS team has 22 members, drawn from local National Guard
and Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Reserve units. The teams’
primary job is to assist civilian first-responders, fire and rescue
and law enforcement units after a terrorist strike against a civilian
target. In addition, the teams can be called in to help local hazardous-material
crews deal with industrial or transportation accidents involving
toxic substances such as chlorine, phosgene or hydrochloric acid.
The decision to give this responsibility to the Guard and Reserve,
rather than active-duty armed forces, was due partly to the posse
comitatus federal law restricting the use of military personnel
within the borders of the United States.
Another important factor, Steinmetz explained: “Guard and
Reserve units were already scattered across the country and well
established within their communities.”
A VERTS suite consists of two virtual-reality “immersion”
training stations. The entire suite occupies about 1,500 to 2,000
square feet of space, according to STRICOM. Inside the stations,
troops wear Level-A chemical suits that encapsulate them completely,
isolating them from the external environment.
The Level-A suits guard against toxic inhalants and protect skin
from chemical blistering agents. Troops wearing the suits carry
a limited internal oxygen supply. They also are outfitted with NBC
detection sensors, radios and sampling kits, which include scissors,
dirt scoops and plastic bags.
Outside the immersion station, students in separate cubicles can
view this synthetic learning environment and interact with their
immersed compatriots through desktop computers. The students participate
directly in the exercise through what Kraus calls “avatars”—virtual
characters that they control, using joysticks to manage every required
The non-immersed students, dressed in battle-dress uniforms (BDUs),
can act either in consort with their immersed teammates or as an
adversary. Avatars also can be created to simulate real-life crowds,
other biological/chemical teams or casualties that require treatment
and evacuation, or perhaps enemy forces. Included in the scenes
are animals, vehicles, trees, fire hydrants, streets, doors, stairs
and the interiors of buildings, which can be entered for reconnaissance.
A “battlemaster” station, where the chief trainer controls
the exercise, rounds out the suite. Constant radio contact is maintained
among team members at all times and recorded for later review.
Upon completion of the exercise, an “after-action review”
is conducted, using playback capabilities similar to watching a
movie on a videocassette recorder. This provides students with the
opportunity to review and critique their performances and learn
“The nice thing about VERTS is that the teams can play it
again and again, until they get it right,” said Kraus.
Trainers stress the “buddy” system. “It’s
like scuba diving,” Kraus explained. Even while in simulators,
the teams are taught to keep one another in sight.
“You don’t go into a real situation alone,” Kraus
said. “The terrorists might still be in the area, for all
you know. Also, teams will have to deal with crowds of people who
are disoriented, injured and emotional because of the attack.”
During training sessions, one section of the team is held in reserve,
“just as it would be in a real-life situation,” added
A realistic simulation trainer like VERTS makes it easier to practice
handling simulated NBC attacks around a city block or in a convention
center, explained Steinmetz. “It’s hard to go out and
rope off a four-block area in New York City,” he said.
Pentagon planners wanted VERTS “to be tied to the common-operations-force
concept,” Steinmetz said. This allows everyone to train and
practice the same way, so when there is a real incident, everyone
is on the same page and understands what to do, he explained.
According to Steinmetz, VERTS technologies include interactive
courseware and performance tools, which allow CST members to train
in the same way that they are going to respond. These tools will
also include “reach-back” capability, enabling teams
to access on-the-spot information from faraway government experts
This is where the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) comes
in, said Steinmetz. Although VERTS development itself is not part
of DTRA’s mission, the agency recently provided training for
the next 17 CST teams currently seeking certification by the Office
of the Secretary of Defense. VERTS is primarily designed to teach
onsite casualty assessment, treatment and removal. Medical assessment
and treatment, however, are not part of the DTRA mission, agency
Even without terrorists, the danger of a chemical or biological
incident exists, noted Walt Zimmers, chief of DTRA’s WMD Assessment
and Analysis Center, in Alexandria. On any given day, there are
approximately 50,000 tanker trucks carrying dangerous chemicals
on U.S. highways, he pointed out. “You never know what is
going to happen.”
When something does happen, the assessment and analysis center
sometimes is called upon to help. During an insecticide factory
explosion and fire incident in Helena, Ark., last year, for example,
the center supported local first responders.
Using weather modeling and plume analysis, meteorologists on the
DTRA staff were able to predict a wind shift, caused by an advancing
storm front, that eventually carried the fire’s toxic plume
directly into an area previously chosen to receive evacuees from
the surrounding countryside.
VERTS also will save the government money, Stienmetz said, because
it is much cheaper and easier to have troops achieve a high level
of proficiency before they train in real-life urban exercises.
VERTS is based, in part, on simulation-based trainers for aircraft
and tanks, Steinmetz explained. “What we have created is a
By converting some pieces of existing technology from one use to
another and leveraging some more recent developments, Steinmetz
said, they have been able to hold down costs. The budget for VERTS
was $1 million in 1999, he reported. It was doubled in 2000, to
$2 million. “We are buying stuff for hardware costs,”
They also plan to use the most recent innovations in the video
game industry, he indicated. “The gaming industry is driving
us constantly and at the same time providing us with more and more
realistic simulations,” Steinmetz observed.
By analyzing tasks that teams must perform, VERTS planners have
been able to determine which procedures are best taught in the classroom,
in live exercises or in a simulator.
“Cleaning a detection sensor is probably better accomplished
through live training, than in a simulator,” Kraus added.
“Virtual training used to be a separate field,” Steinmetz
said. “Now, it is combined routinely with other types of training.”
To further enhance training, VERTS offers what Steinmetz called
“constructive simulation,” which allows players to cooperate
with one another while conducting their own training. This means
that feedback from team members can be incorporated to improve future
versions of VERTS.
When it come to live simulation training, Steinmetz explained,
by adding a combat trauma patient simulator, team members actually
can transfer medical cases from the screen to a dummy that can be
programmed to exhibit real-life WMD symptoms. These dummies can
sweat, convulse, cry and die. They also can be revived.
“One of Steinmetz’s jobs is to wedge VERTS into Advanced
Distributed Learning,” said Eddie Nagel, director of the Maneuver
Support Center (MANSCEN), at Fort Leonard Wood, who also handles
fielding and integration of VERTS with CST units. “This endeavor
still needs maturation. Hence, we will be conducting experiments
and exercises at both the individual and collective training areas.”
“VERTS is a distributed learning network,” Steinmetz
confirmed. “Avatar movement is actually what will be shared.”
By using the National Guard Internet, or GuardNet, VERTS stations
in different cities can be linked so that CST teams in New York
can train with their counterparts in Los Angeles, he said.
“The GuardNet has already been used for courseware development,”
This particular system is known as Advanced Distributed Simulation
Technology (ADST). The increased bandwidth that resulted from running
advanced versions of ADST made it possible to go online with VERTS,
The most recent, and extensive test of this distributive learning
network, occurred on August 30, and engaged 13 different satellite
systems. Several government departments and agencies connected during
this exercise were the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental
Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Defense
Department. “By broadcasting to several different locations
at once, we were able to show that we could, in fact, connect points
A and B,” Steinmetz said.
Improvements in distributed learning programs, Steinmetz said,
made it possible for the first 10 CST teams to be fielded in two
years. This time frame is “unprecedented,” he said,
it usually takes as long as seven or eight years to field a brand