'Cutting-edge' program helps first responders prepare for the worst

by Brett Henebery29 Jun 2017
It’s the call that no first responder wants to receive. Stammering and in a panic, the shrill voice on the other end of the phone begs for help over a rattle of gunfire in the background.

Unfortunately, it’s a scenario that US law enforcement agencies know only too well.

While there is no such thing as being ‘too prepared’ for such a terrifying and dramatic event as this, how first responders are trained can make a meaningful difference.

Recognising this, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has launched a new virtual training program that effectively puts the trainee in a gamified version of a real-world active shooter event.

The program – developed and tested with direct input from the first responder community – is built on the same ‘Unreal’ gaming engine which powers popular video games such as Mortal Kombat, BioShock and Batman: Arkham City.

It will allow responders to collaboratively role-play complex scenarios in a virtual environment, improving coordination and communication while mitigating injuries and loss of lives.

To develop the “cutting edge” program – known as the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE) platform – the DHS contracted Cole Engineering Services, Inc (CESI).

In a press release on Monday, the DHS said the program would not only be available to first responders nationwide, but at no cost.

“EDGE is a multiplayer, scalable, online environment that trains responders – single agencies or cross-agency, jurisdiction, or discipline – for a coordinated response to active shooter incidents,” the DHS said in a statement.

William Bryan, DHS Under Secretary (Acting) for Science and Technology, said that in today’s world, it is essential that responders have every tool at their disposal to prepare for and respond to critical incidents.

“When decisions must be made in a matter of seconds, every bit of training helps to save civilian and responder lives,” he said.

“EDGE harnesses the power of cutting-edge gaming and defense technology to make training accessible, engaging, and affordable to all responders — from rural volunteers to those serving our major metropolitan areas.”

The initial scenario – a hotel active shooter response – features avatars, equipment, vehicles, and architecture designed completely to scale, using as a backdrop Sacramento, California, where initial EDGE prototype pilots were conducted.

Milt Nenneman, EDGE program manager for S&T’s First Responders Group, said the company wanted to create a platform that could instantly be used be response agencies to meet specific training needs, using their own standard operating procedures.

“Any responder with Internet access and a computer can now use the platform for free,” he said.

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