Virtual Disaster Practice
Virginia opens a simulation center to train crisis commanders.
A new Virginia facility will use computer simulations to train top- ranking state and local officials in how to respond to crisis situations.
Agency heads, city managers and top elected officials will travel to the Emergency Management Training, Analysis and Simulation Center (EMTASC), housed at Old Dominion University's simulation center in Suffolk, for training sessions. The Department of Defense already prepares commanders through simulation technology, which can be cheaper and more realistic than deploying physical armed forces in training exercises. Officials expect EMTASC will bring similar advantages to the state and local level. DOD "didn't need to have ships sailing out to sea and maneuvering," says Hampton H. Hart Jr., the Virginia Department of Emergency Management's exercise training officer. "We hope to use that same capability to model various scenarios related to emergency management."
According to Randy Sickmeir, exercise plans manager for EMTASC, the center will provide data--hospital occupancy rates, traffic conditions, food supplies at shelters--on hypothetical disasters ranging from hurricanes to terrorist attacks. Then, as officials make command decisions, the computers will analyze the effects of those situations on their virtual constituencies, forcing managers to respond.
State officials are currently engaged in the laborious task of gathering real-world data to make the simulations as realistic as possible. Large-scale training exercises at the facility are not expected to begin until next year.