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New Simulators Amp Up Training for First Responders 

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By Chelsea Todaro 



Disaster response planners and first responders are the beneficiaries of some new modeling and simulation programs.

The Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center recently released a tool called the real time evacuation planning model (RtePM). It is an online program that estimates the time required to evacuate an area in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters, Thomas Reese, director of business development and technology transfer for the center, said at a National Training and Simulation Association exhibition on Capitol Hill. 

It gives an emergency response manager total control of evacuation planning. He first defines where he wants to evacuate by placing pinpoints on a map. He can then modify variables such as the time of day the evacuation starts, the rate of evacuation, the population participation rate and the number of residents in a vehicle within the area.

“Any emergency planner can go onto our website and literally draw a polygon around an area to see how long it takes to evacuate,” said Reese.

Scenarios can be large-scale, terrorist attacks and earthquakes, or small-scale, and benign events such as a crowd leaving an area after a parade, he said.

The model gathers its information from census data and allows users to add more people to an area. Roads can be shut down, reversed and created if, for example, an official wants to move emergency vehicles onto a street for security. Evacuees can be made to respond more slowly or quickly in a scenario.

“You can model all the traffic on the roads, the stoplights and everything,” said Reese. “As you execute the model, it will show you all the evacuation routes and how long it will take to evacuate,” he added.

Johns Hopkins University originally developed the program with funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. In 2012, it was transferred to VMASC, which distributes the program free through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management using DHS regional catastrophic preparedness grants. The company is updating RtePM by adding random test modes, increased traffic modeling accuracy and increased modeling of different catastrophes, said Reese.

The center is also offering the severe storm event mitigation and recovery forecasting tool. It identifies medically fragile and vulnerable populations in the aftermath of a severe storm. It allows emergency planners to forecast the immediate, mid-term and long-term impacts of such events. This includes predicting structural damage, shelter needs, demand for health services and economic disruption, Reese said.

“People need to understand who is more vulnerable than others, who is prepared to leave and where to evacuate,” Reese said. “All those kind of things we can help people understand through survey and modeling.”

Another company Little Arms Studios is developing a training system called the interactive virtual incident simulator, which is designed for firefighters. The idea is to make the task of training for high stress environments less expensive and safer through a computer game experience, said Kyle Bishop, producer for the company.

IVIS provides faster learning and more interaction compared to manual simulators because it does not require a set up for re-enactment. “I can take the game, turn on the hose and just put out the fire myself,” Bishop said at the exhibition.

Currently the program only includes house fire simulations, but Bishop said the company plans to expand the software. “We are going to add different environments so [firefighters] will have more variety,” said Bishop. This includes skyscrapers, vehicles and forest fires.

Little Arms Studios is also working with Stilwell Technology and Robotics to make simulation machines work in tandem, he said. “Right now we are building it so you can play online with other firefighters,” said Bishop. They also plan to have other first responders interact with firefighters, such as paramedics and law enforcement.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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