Military Training Technology Making Leap to Civilian Use
Take a computer simulation of a tank shooting rounds. Change the tank into a fire truck, the cannon barrel into a water hose, and give the vehicle more speed.
Instead of a military training system that tells users when they have destroyed a building, now it’s telling emergency responders when they have applied enough water to put out a fire.
Small businesses that have sold computer-based training systems to the U.S. military are now finding opportunities to convert their simulations to the homeland security and domestic first responder market.
Doug Wright of Mymic, a small business that specializes in modeling and simulation, created the Learning Enriched Virtual Environment product that takes soldiers into an Afghan home where they converse with its residents in a non-offensive manner while also looking out for dangers.
The underlying software was converted for port security applications. Truck drivers entering a port are taught how to look for hazardous material spills and terrorist activity, and other issues of concern to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It has sold its system to the Virginia Port Authority in Hampton Roads, Va.
Its Critical Incident Response Training Simulation for combat medics transitioned to a first responder simulation, and an Air Force operations center Games for Team Training became a police operations center.
The process of converting software from military-centric to domestic applications can take the company up to six months, Wright said.
“It all depends on how extravagant you want it,” he said.
Dennis Wikoff, vice president of Defense Department programs at the training outsourcing company Adayana said, “once you have that command-and-control type structure built, and the simulations underneath, it’s a fairly logical step to say, ‘okay now this model is an emergency operations center.’”
The knock on marketing products to the domestic homeland security or private sector market has been that each jurisdiction, company or state is only one sale. That is quite different from a military service, which buys products in large quantities.
The good news for vendors is that many of these organizations are cash-strapped, and computer simulations can save them time and money.
Pat Carey, chief of staff for the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System Training Center, gave one example of how his agency is saving time and money with a simulation developed by Adayana.
The state has some 6,000 interoperable radios that are used only in times of large-scale crises. They were purchased through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants and are distributed to state and local responders so they can communicate with each other and federal officials.
The problem is training these widely scattered personnel to operate a radio that they don’t use every day. “It is a very complex radio to use. Even command officers use it very infrequently so we need to make sure they are fully capable,” Carey said.
Normally, first responders would have to be brought into classrooms. That is, of course, costly and time consuming. And then they would have to be brought back for refresher courses.
Adayana developed a computer simulation that allows the state’s first responders to become familiar with the radio on their computers when it is convenient for them. Training can be done at a fraction of the cost, Carey said.
“It saves money because the training can be done so much more efficiently than in the classroom, but it also makes a huge investment effective. Without this, I don’t believe the interoperable radio system would be effective when it was needed,” Carey said.
Similarly, a pager-sized personal radiological detection device that the state distributed to first responders required in-depth training. Personnel had to be brought in for a lecture and demonstration. The device would be useless if they didn’t understand “rems and rads” and the other indications of a radiological contamination, and how to react if they had a positive reading, Carey said. The state also had to pay licensed radiologists to bring in radioactive material for the training.
“It took so long that the three-year warranty was expiring before we had many of the detectors issued,” Carey said. With the new simulation, it takes about 90 minutes to be certified “and you can do it in your pajamas, as they say.”
Wright has had a similar experience working on simulations for a Virginia electric utility. It wanted a simulation for workers who need to know how to use fire extinguishers.
“Before they would have to take individuals out of their workplace, give them 80 slides on a PowerPoint once a year. … We took that and put it into a game and did simulated training.”
It saved the utility time and money and increased the learning rate, he said.
“We are meeting the customers, and determining what the power industry might need, what the medical industry might need, and then making it fit with one of our [military] simulators,” Wright said.
Selling to the civilian market has other complications, he added. Customers are not as patient as far as the development process is concerned. Modeling and simulations companies have to spend the money up front to convert the software from military applications.
“In the civilian market and private sector what you have to have is a finished product. In the government sector … they will say, ‘Okay, I understand you need time to develop it.’ The private sector says, ‘I want it done, and give me a consultant for a month to make it work in my business,’” Wright said.
CHI Systems developed the HapMed Combat Medic Training Suite for the Army Medical Department. It consists of a mannequin outfitted with red LED lights that simulate blood flow. Electrical vibrations inside the dummy’s neck and wrists mimic a pulse. The training begins with computer simulations, then moves on to the mannequin, said Samuel Kolodney, manager of medical simulation products.
Medics primarily use the system for tourniquet training and unblocking airways, which addresses two of the most common causes of combat deaths. The wireless system gives trainees feedback during and after the simulation. It lets them know if the tourniquet is tight enough and if it is located on the right place on the injured limb. It trains both cognitive and motor skills.
Converting the technology to a domestic mass casualty training or a car crash scenario was not a big stretch, he said. The company has sold the system to Cambridge Health Alliance in Boston for EMS training in Boston.
Tourniquet application has come back in vogue for civilian training, Kolodney said. But organizations don’t have the training tools necessarily to do it. “We’re in a good spot for that and people are very interested.”
Photo Credit: Mymic