DOD is game for teaching crisis strategy

DOD is game for teaching crisis strategy

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff






An artist's concept of the Final Flurry international-crisis exercise shows intelligence students and instructors conferring over an intranet.


If a military crisis occurs today, intelligence strategists must sort through reams of e-mail, intercepted phone calls and rapidly changing maps, while an all-news television channel blares in the background.

To streamline the data gathering skills of its intelligence students, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, part of the National Defense University, is putting some of them through a multimedia test that draws them into a fast-changing mock-up of international turmoil.

In a demonstration for the news media late last month, officials of the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office and Paramount Digital Entertainment showed off the StoryDrive Engine. It uses storytelling techniques such as plot twists and compelling characterizations to enliven standard Defense Department role-playing games.

"In the world of DOD tabletop demonstrations, the standard medium is paper," said scriptwriter Larry Tuch of Paramount Digital Entertainment, a division of Viacom Inc. of New York. "But that doesn't give you the emotional charge."

Design team

With DMSO funding, Paramount and the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute developed the multimedia engine using off-the-shelf tools: Director Multimedia Studio software from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco, a network of notebook computers and a videodisk player.

The total cost was under $1 million, DMSO chief scientist Judith S. Dahmann said.

The StoryDrive Engine grew out of a 1997 National Research Council study of the synergy between entertainment and defense technologies, Dahmann said.

A team from DMSO and Paramount looked at a number of paper-based crisis simulations before settling on Final Flurry, ICAF's seminar-style exercise. Over the years, ICAF political science professor Alan G. Whittaker had written a large body of material for the annual exercise, Dahmann said.

After a dry run in February, the team decided to try the multimedia simulation on four groups of ICAF students.

During Final Flurry, which lasts four or five days, the students work from networked notebook computers over a simulated National Security Council intranet with links to incoming e-mail messages, an extensive reference library of biographies and maps, and a communications channel for reporting results.

"We don't volunteer this information," Tuch said of the deep-background data.

Students must take the initiative to drill down into the library and glean nuggets that could be useful as events in the storyline heat up, he said.

At any time, the teacher can change the situation by sending the students e-mail, voice mail or video mail fake footage from a fictional ZNN news network.

The team filmed actors portraying fictional reporters and world leaders and edited them together with stock footage to create the ZNN video clips, said Nick Iuppa, Paramount Digital Entertainment's vice president and creative director.

The instructor can crank up the tension in the room and test the students' crisis-management skills by throwing in a report of some new international problem'a complaint to the United Nations or a terrorist bombing, for instance.

Tuch and DMSO officials stressed that the Final Flurry scenarios, which involve imaginary American and foreign leaders in such trouble spots as the India-Pakistan border and the Middle East, do not represent DOD predictions of events. Instead, the developers drew on recent international events to create a realistic though fictional environment for the students.

The StoryDrive Engine does not lock instructors into the given storylines.

By deciding what happens next, an instructor can close down one crisis scenario and turn up the pressure in another area of the world.

The students' late-afternoon video briefing often shows Final Flurry's fictitious U.S. president holding a news conference. Students frequently get a pleasant surprise when they see how many of their intelligence recommendations make it into the news conference, Tuch said.

"They never used to get a payoff," he said.

Whittaker and Tuch said ICAF faculty members have reported that the story engine gives the students a greater sense of realism.

ICAF intelligence students are a select group of commissioned officers and civil servants whose average age is 41. Whittaker said the simulation aims to give them a realistic crisis experience, encompassing many forms of electronic communications, from databases to TV news. "The students need to learn how to triage their time" and make good decisions, he said.

The StoryDrive team is considering next dramatizing DOD acquisition problems to instruct managers involved in procurement issues, Dahmann said.

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