Department of Homeland Security

DHS unwraps free virtual training for active shooter incidents

A new virtual training platform is now available free to first responders.

The Department of Homeland Security's Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment is a multiplayer, scalable, online platform that trains responders -- single agencies or across agencies, jurisdictions or disciplines -- for a coordinated response to active shooter incidents.

Built on the Unreal gaming engine, which powers such popular interactive video games as Mortal Kombat, EDGE allows responders to collaboratively role-play complex scenarios in a virtual environment, so they can improve their coordination and communication, officials with DHS' Science and Technology Directorate said.

Virtual training provides a repeatable, accessible alternative to live field exercises, offering responders the opportunity to strategize and practice responding with multiple disciplines and across jurisdictions.  However, the costs to develop a virtual training tool or modify an existing modeling or simulation game are significant, and have kept this type of training out of the reach of most of the first responder community.

DHS S&T's First Responders Group worked with the Army Research Laboratory’s Simulation and Training Technology Center and Cole Engineering Services to develop the training that could be shared across government .

EDGE's initial scenario -- a hotel active shooter response in Sacramento, Calif. -- features avatars, equipment, vehicles and architecture designed completely to scale.

The 26-story hotel is completely accessible to trainers -- all the rooms, closets, subterranean spaces, and even the fire control room.  As responders move through the hotel, the suspects can throw Molotov cocktails and start fires. The scenario features a dispatch function, complete with nine fire channels and three law enforcement channels into which responders can patch. They can also use point-to-point text communications, Milt Nenneman, EDGE program manager for S&T’s First Responders Group, said in a video introducing EDGE.

EDGE's second environment is a large school, which gives responders the opportunity to work with school officials to train for an active shooting situation without disrupting students.  Additional roles have been added, such as school staff, teachers and administrators.

"There's very little training on cross-discipline, and cross-discipline, unified command, strategic things – those are the things we really, in a major event, need the most training on," Nenneman said.

"Virtual training doesn't replace actual hands-on training," he said. "But this tool will augment hands-on training and give people more repetitions and more training in between live, hands-on training opportunities."

Trainers can create any number of scenarios. The open-sandbox concept allows them to develop scenarios to test whatever skills they are teaching.

“We wanted to create a platform that could instantly be used by response agencies to meet specific training needs, using their own standard operating procedures,” Nenneman said. “Any responder with internet access and a computer can now use the platform for free.”

Cole Engineering will now distribute EDGE to all interested response agencies and provide related technical support. First responder agencies may contact [email protected] or 877-EDGE-011 (877-334-3011) to obtain a free copy of EDGE.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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