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Games grab attention at Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. homeland security officials are encouraging first responders across the country to consider games and simulations to fulfill their training needs.

The Department of Homeland Security's office for domestic preparedness (ODP) contracted with ThoughtLink Inc. to evaluate models, games and simulations in support of a response to weapons of mass destruction attack. The report evaluated the state of the games industry and examined more than 100 products, the evaluations of which are available on ODP's website.

An assessment of the market was necessary as state and local officials groped for reliable metrics on which to judge products they were being offered. "They wanted us to assess games for homeland security," said Julia Loughran, president of ThoughtLink Inc. "They were getting their doors knocked down by people providing solutions ... States can now use ODP grant money on simulations and games."

Examples of products include strategic incident commander games and simulated human bodies on which to practice medical treatment. The prices range from free CD ROMs to $200,000 training simulators.

Despite the growing number of interested sellers, the homeland defense gaming market is still young, said the ThoughtLink report.

"Given that many users are interested in models, simulations and games, but few understand how to incorporate them into training and exercises, there is a clear need for additional training and education on how to select and use them," the report said. "Current standards for models and simulations data architectures, protocols and formats have been adopted and used for Defense Department applications, but have not been adopted for domestic preparedness applications."

Games are becoming preferred planning and teaching tools because they allow local officials to inexpensively plan for low-frequency, high-impact events, fits their budgetary concerns and, ideally, can disseminate information learned in large exercises to smaller entities. However, there are no federal standards for games and simulations.

Loughran said easy-to-use simulations that can be tailored to fit locales and resources were most prized by first responders and security professionals.

"Today's training and education is primarily face to face in a classroom," she said. "Users are in their initial phase of this technology's application."

While agricultural contamination simulations are popular, other niches are not so well developed. Games that simulate reactions to biological and radiological events, the demands of mass casualty triages at health care centers and the actions of non-officials are quite limited, she said.

"As for the private sector training tools, there aren't many out there to train Joe Citizen or Joe Business Owner what to do," Loughran said.

ThoughtLink's evaluation was based on 1,100 requirements that were matched up with the needs of varied agencies and first responders. For example, detailed graphics may not be a priority for a personnel deployment simulation, but it would be for a medical trainer testing knowledge of biological agent symptoms.

ThoughtLink evaluated the National Guard's effort at homeland security gaming--the automated exercise and assessment system, or AEAS. The product, which is available to interested communities, was deemed to match many of the parameters that ThoughtLink found were priorities for local officials.

The CD-ROM allows participants to respond as a team in real time to simulated emergency scenarios lasting two to eight hours, such as explosions or the release of radioactive contaminants or biological agents. The system tracks players' responses and provides real-time assessments of their expected actions, which permits each jurisdiction to determine strengths and areas of concern in advance of a real emergency.

AEAS, made by the Guard and SAIC Inc., was built on simulation technology designed for the military. SAIC is now working with the National Guard and the Defense Department on how the simulation could be adapted to address the needs of the hospital emergency incident command system.

The report's authors see their work as being a cornerstone of DHS' guidelines in the procurement of simulation equipment.

As they begin to examine games and hone in on matching new products to new markets, DHS is considering tying grant money to a list of relevant technologies. The intended result, Loughran said, is to bring meaningful training to the entire domestic security community.

"We're in the [contract's] second phase," she said. "Now we're trying to spread the religion."
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Article Details
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Author:Pappalardo, Joe
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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