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VMASC Working to Develop Cost-effective Training Seminar for Department of Homeland Security Exercises

In May, Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) hosted administrative officers from every Hampton Roads community for a "table-top" simulation exercise, mimicking what would happen in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane.

Funded by Virginia's Office of Veterans Affairs & Homeland Security, the Hampton Roads Full Scale Exercise provided real lessons to community leaders on the extent to which the area would be affected in the aftermath of such an event.

Barry Ezell, chief scientist at VMASC and principal investigator for the exercise, said community officials told the team running the exercise, "We had no idea this would be so hard."

Community leaders "told us they had underestimated the potential damage from wind and rain. They didn't realize the cascading impact that an event like this would have on the community, and how things like power interruption can make recovery harder," Ezell said. The exercise, he added, showed chief administrative officers from the participating communities that their preparedness plans need to be more comprehensive.

Following the exercise, another, more problematic issue arose. Concerned about how the simulation appeared to be practically a foreign concept to the participating communities, VMASC researchers took a look across the emergency preparedness sphere. They found that no one is doing these types of training simulations.

"Our research has concluded there is a serious gap in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) training model," Ezell said. "They really don't take advantage of virtual simulation and constructed simulation technology in doing their training exercises. Everything is live action. As a result, they have the most expensive training model that you can have."

In a time of severe budget difficulties, the Department of Homeland Security - which oversees borders, customs, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a host of other agencies - could train its personnel far more effectively if they made use of dynamic simulation technology, Ezell said.

For example, flying an F-18 fighter jet for an hour costs the government $35,000. Operating an F-18 flight simulator for the same amount of time costs $255.

"There are cost savings possible that are greater than 90 percent. And they're not doing any of it," Ezell said.

Using the Hampton Roads Full Scale Exercise as its case study, VMASC is working with the Hampton Roads Incident Management Team - a coalition of emergency personnel and planners from local communities - to define the requirements and specifications for an off-the-shelf training seminar that could be adapted to any DHS training exercise.

"The problem is so large and so systemic. But organizations like VMASC (which can provide such a training simulation) have not done a good job making the business case," Ezell said. "What doesn't work is taking a very expensive simulation and taking it to DHS and trying to sell it.

"We're doing a cost analysis to estimate the potential savings from injecting a virtual and constructed simulation into DHS's training model."

This article was posted on: January 3, 2012

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