Training and Simulation
For Homeland Defense, Simulations Are Low-Tech
By Matthew Rusling
First-person videogames and immersive simulations are commonplace in military training. But for the members of U.S. Northern Command’s emergency response team, the training is relatively low-tech.
A newly formed organization known as CCMRF — chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive consequence management response force — trains in preparation for emergencies such as dirty bomb attacks or deadly releases of toxic agents in U.S. cities. It is responsible for assisting federal authorities in the aftermath of weapons of mass destruction attacks.
CCMRF members train in groups of about 600 personnel. Training sessions are held in various locations throughout the United States.
In a typical training scenario, they are alerted on their computer screen that a radiological device has been released in a U.S. city. They subsequently receive orders via email, instant message or phone. They may be asked to link up with a local or state force or to coordinate helicopter support to transport victims.
Exercises occur in real time so the unit can assess its ability to respond quickly. While the drill is under way, information flows from simulated television and news media on computer screens.
Trainees must sometimes coordinate with role players acting as civil authorities, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The unit would like to upgrade its training with more advanced simulations that can more realistically replicate the conditions of a real-world emergency, but officials say the low-tech approach works just fine.
The desktop exercises are “effective enough,” says Ronald Hessdoerfer, who oversees the CCMRF’s computer assisted training drills. Although there is certainly room for improvement, he said, the unit would be ready if an incident were to happen tomorrow.
CCMRF is made up of 4,500 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It is part of the Joint Force Land Component Command, U.S. Army North, which falls under U.S. Northern Command.
One of the main training objectives is logistics, says Hessdoerfer. The team members must understand how they will link up with civilian organizations and under whose authority they will operate in case they are deployed, he adds.
They are expected to detect and measure the strength and pervasiveness of hazardous emissions. Other missions include search-and-rescue, extraction of casualties and decontamination.
The desktop training exercises meet the unit’s needs, Hessdoerfer says. Since there has never been a nuclear attack on the United States, trying to practice for all scenarios is difficult, Hessdoerfer says. This includes the possibility that the force will be not able to communicate internally or with civilian agencies.
“If [the attack] is biological you are probably going to have all your communications,” he said. “If you have a nuclear event you might be totally without communications.”