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Virtual Metropolis Underpins Emergency Response Trainer.

A virtual-reality emergency-response training system--currently being designed for the Army National Guard--could gain wider use within the Defense Department to prepare troops for homeland defense missions.

The system is called the virtual emergency response training simulation (VERTS). It has been in the works for about three years and the plan was to make it available to National Guard and Army Reserve weapons of mass destruction-civil support teams--units that help domestic authorities in responding to terrorist attacks involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. The Army plans to make the system available to local first responders-fire, police, emergency medical and HazMat units.

The program initially was managed by the Army Simulation Training and Instrumentation Command, but it was subsequently transferred to the Maneuver Support Center, in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. That post also is home to the U.S. Army Chemical School. The service so far has spent about $4 million on the program.

VERTS currently is "going through the requirements process," said Eddie Nagel, program manager at the Army Maneuver Support Center.

So far, it is only a prototype system, he said. "We don't know when the fielding will take place."

He said the program could be accelerated, given the heightened state of alert in the United States after the September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. However, Nagel said his office had not been informed by higher authorities about specific plans for speeding up development. "There has to be a decision-making authority, at the OSD [office of the defense secretary] level."

As originally conceived, the Army would produce four VERTS prototypes that would be linked in a distributed learning environment, enabling dispersed units to train together. The program combines conventional classroom training, interactive courses, performance tools, and live, virtual and constructive simulations.

VERTS would provide realistic, virtual, urban environments that can be used in real time by trainees interacting in a free-play scenario using standard PCs and existing networks.

IDA, the Institute for Defense Analyses, is responsible for developing "virtual cities," or realistic models of major U.S. cities for use in the trainer. Last year, for example, a simulation of Los Angeles was used by local law-enforcement officials to prepare security plans for the Democratic National Convention.

One of the virtual-city models developed for VERTS was a digital representation of the World Trade Center garage, which was expected to be targeted again, after the 1993 bombing.

A VERTS suite includes two virtual-reality "immersion" training stations. The entire suite occupies about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. Inside the stations, trainees wear chemical suits. They also are outfitted with detection sensors, radios and sampling kits.

Outside the immersion station, students in separate cubicles can interact--via computers-with the trainees inside the stations. The students can participate in the exercise through so-called "avatars"-- virtual characters controlled by joysticks. Avatars can be created to simulate real-life crowds, other biological/chemical teams, casualties or enemy forces. The chief trainer controls the exercise from a "battlemaster" station. The trainees and trainer communicate via radio.

Robert L. Clover, an IDA engineer, briefed experts on the virtual cities project last November, during the annual simulation industry symposium sponsored by the National Training Systems Association. In a paper published at the conference, Clover noted that, "We are all experiencing some pain in learning how to deal with these complex synthetic environments [of the virtual cities]."

The VERTS synthetic urban environments are created from a wide variety of source data--ranging from "accurate geographic information system (GIS) files to in-house generated data where information was of poor quality, missing or not captured," said Clover.

The basic source-data products needed to create an urban area for VERTS include overhead photography, digital elevation models, street centerlines, curb lines, alleys, medians, sidewalks, parking lots, parking islands, delivery areas, building footprints, building heights, bridges and tunnels, surface and sub-surface rail.

Some cities have updated 6-inch resolution overhead imagery, Clover said, while others still have old imagery with 2-feet resolution or worse. Two-feet resolution, he explained, "is not good enough to permit us to accurately identify and place small items such as fire plugs, newspaper boxes, street lights, shrubbery, etc."

The database modeling computer tool used for virtual cities is called TerraTools, made by TerraSIM, Inc.

The Army also developed VERTS semi-automated forces, to model various entities in the battlefield, such as chemical, biological agents, environmental spills, plumes, humans, vehicles and weather conditions. These entities are part of an Army program that develops computer-generated forces, called OneSaf, or one semi-automated force.

To make the virtual city models more useful for homeland defense, they could be used to predict the direction and scope of a biological or chemical attack, based on the wind conditions and the locations of buildings, said Dennis Jones, program manager for ITT Defense simulation and training division. "The next step is to predict where the hazards will go within a city, in the same run-time parameters," said Jones in an interview.

ITT is not involved in the VERTS program, but has been a long-time contractor to the Defense Department for NBC simulations (nuclear, chemical and biological). These technologies, so far, have been largely unavailable to homeland defense agencies, because of their high cost, said Jones. "Homeland-defense local agencies can't afford [chemical-biological] simulations," he said. A high-fidelity virtual-reality simulation for interactive training, he said, can cost several million dollars to develop and install.

"If I have to simulate behaviors of individuals, I can spend a boatload of money to model that," Jones said.

During the past seven years, ITT received more than $30 million in Defense Department contracts to develop simulations of chemical and biological environments, protection systems, sensors and electronic alert messaging. Most of the contract awards were by the U.S. Army and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

ITT's simulations have been used to test chemical detectors, for example. "We support R&D [research and development] of the systems, prior to building them," said Jones. Other virtual simulations are designed to train the sensor operators.

Simulations can help to predict where the [gas] plume is headed, he explained. "But it's not used in an operational sense, where a commander may use the simulation to plan strategy."

These types of simulations are not "predictive" tools, but rather provide information to "stimulate the sensors, whether it's a live sensor or a model of a sensor," said Jones.

Data from NBC simulations could help predict casualties from a chemical attack, but that is not what the system was designed to do. The current simulations only are for open battlefield scenarios, not urban locations.

ITT recently built a high-fidelity virtual trainer for Army biological standoff detection system, a helicopter-mounted laser device designed by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The trainer was intended to help Army officers develop "tactics, techniques and procedures" to operate the system, said Jones.

The company also has worked on modeling terrorist and counter-proliferation scenarios. The models are used to provide answers to "what if" situations, such as whether a truck colliding with a loaded bomber on a runway would cause bomb detonation (and for what combination of conditions), how would typical weather patterns spread contaminants from a terrorist device, or how effective different types of weapons are in attacking and defeating a buried bunker.

"While these capabilities have been applied to a number of conventional engineering problems, the main application for these models is in counter-proliferation, force protection, anti-terrorist and weapon system safety assessment studies," said a company statement.

Interest Growing in Disaster-Management Simulator

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 already determined.

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 multitasking environment."
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Title Annotation:Army National Guard program
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:1852
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