Federal transportation security agencies are considering the use
of digital simulations to recreate the September 11 hijackings of
four U.S. commercial airliners. These simulations also could be
used to test new airport emergency procedures.
A company that specializes in virtual-reality simulators that replicate
major U.S. airports has received inquiries from the Federal Aviation
Administration and other transportation agencies about this technology,
said Ralph E. Huber, spokesman for the simulation division of Environmental
Tectonics Corp., based in Southampton, Pa.
“We have been called by the R&D [research and development]
people from the FAA and other U.S. transportation officials, inquiring
about what simulation programs can do, and how we can modify them
to investigate what happened on September 11, recreate what happened,”
Huber said. As agencies develop new emergency plans and security
procedures, they may rely on simulators to “validate those
plans in a virtual environment.”
ETC makes the so-called Advanced Disaster Management Simulator,
which has been in use by several major airport authorities for more
than five years.
The ADMS is designed to train emergency personnel such as firefighters
and hazardous material handlers. The simulator, said Huber, helps
them learn command-and-control skills. “Our specialty is to
recreate environments to stress the human factor,” he said.
In the future, simulation and modeling technologies could help
develop an “integrated security system for our entire airport
structure,” said Ernest L. Lewis, director of strategic development
at Environmental Tectonics.
Trainees using the ADMS are virtually transported into an emergency
scenario and must assess and respond to the incident. Company officials
said that the system is “spontaneous,” which means that
there are no “canned” scenarios, where the outcome is
In addition to major U.S. airports and government agencies, other
users of ADMS include the aviation authorities of the United Kingdom,
Egypt and Japan. These agencies, Huber said, have purchased simulators
to replace traditional training boards and sand tables, which today
are viewed as outmoded training tools.
The simulator, said Huber, “goes beyond the Powerpoint, chalkboard
stuff that they’ve been doing.” However, he added, “there
is a cost associated with training in a simulator, versus doing
it in a sandbox.”
The ADMS also includes a “driver trainer” so drivers
of fire trucks or snowplows can learn how to navigate around airports
and how to get around obstacles such as baggage carts, refueling
vehicles and re-supply trucks.
The simulations are designed to work with every type of computer,
from laptops to $10 million supercomputers, said Huber. They are
created in the standard software language for simulations, called
OpenGL. A laptop would be sufficient for single trainee learning
individual skills, but to train a larger team, of up to 20 firefighters,
for example, a supercomputer would be needed to process large amounts
of data that would be distributed to all the team members.
The company’s expertise in simulation technologies comes
from its flight-training business, Lewis said. Environmental Tectonics
currently is developing a flight trainer that combines a real-life
centrifuge with a tactical flight simulator. According to Lewis,
that is a capability that has not been achieved before.
“We are marrying a manned multi-axis centrifuge with the
tactical simulation we currently use for hexapod fixed-site”
trainers, he said. Most flight simulators today “don’t
give the kind of sustained high-g environment that a tactical fighter
has to deal with.” Pilots in most U.S. fighter aircraft typically
pull up to nine g’s, or gravity forces.
In the United States, only the Navy has a centrifuge with a multi-axis
gondola, for pilot training. According to Lewis, “When you
add a realistic tactical flight trainer, It’s the ultimate