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Training Equipment & Simulators: The State of Simulation

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In my 30 years of simulation expertise, first as a U.S. Army officer and later as a research faculty member, the expansion and usage of simulator technology has never ceased to amaze me. This expansion is in large part due to two very different communities. The first is the Department of Defense, the investment of which enabled researchers to focus on applying computers, handheld technology and immersive simulation to our high-tech military needs.

The second is the videogame community, which made the visuals more realistic and cost-effective. This allowed folks like me to be able to bring simulation to other organizations and the wider public at a more reasonable cost. This technology transfer ensures a continual upgrade in simulation sophistication and training capability. Despite these upgrades and widespread usage, simulation-augmented training requires considerable front-end analysis to make simulation not just cost-efficient, but effective.

I’ll highlight a few projects that illustrate important factors to consider when contemplating the incorporation of simulation technology, including the transfer of the proposed technology, its usage and the audience that will use it. In addition, I’ll make some observations on the viability of LE usage of simulation training in other fields such as situational awareness, interviewing, confrontations and community relations.

Proposed Technology & Its Transfer
The gap between what simulators can visually create and reality is rapidly closing. Thirty years ago, tanks looked like shoe boxes with brooms handles sticking out. Today a variety of vehicles and people can be accurately recreated. Organizations like the California Police Officer Standards in Training (POST) and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) have adopted simulator usage as a way to augment their traditional instruction and allow trainees to practice the cognitive aspects of maneuvers too dangerous to practice in the real world.

In addition, this training tool is being used by organizations like the Florida Sheriff’s Association to teach teenagers the dangers of aggressive and distracted driving. Not all technologies make easy transfers to LE and civilian usage, so it’s important to realize the limitations of newer technologies before attempting to incorporate them.

Varying Usage
First responders are also taking advantage of the substantial technology transfer to augment their driver, emergency management and incident command training programs. Many local departments are unable to conduct live-burn training, driver training, and management and IC training due to the time, money and safety issues associated with large-scale live-training exercises.

Currently, the Orange County (Fla.) Fire-Rescue Department is engaged in updating its Company Officer and Battalion Chief Command School with a blended approach of Web-, computer-, and immersive simulation-based technology to augment in-class instruction and live exercises. Years ago, simulation wouldn’t have been able to recreate a chaotic fireground scene. But with varying advances in the technology and combined with technology-savvy, forward-thinking chiefs, this immersive simulation is close to becoming a reality.

Users & Environment
We’ve seen how technology and its various usages are helping LE and first responders in their mission of ensuring the public’s safety. However, as a rule, the technology and its use all depend on the user of that technology and the environment in which the training occurs. The technology transfer to non-law enforcement organizations, such as commercial motor vehicle companies, will considerably aid LE’s goal of keeping the nation’s roadways safe. Already, trucking companies like Schneider National and Maverick are using simulation technology to increase their drivers’ safety awareness and fight distracted driving. Meanwhile, in countries like Canada, simulators are being used by the Canadian Ministry of Education to instill more interactive driver training among that nation’s teenagers.

Potential new LE and first responders are faced with a complex problem when deciding to use simulation technology, because the level of fidelity is directly related to who will engage the technology, in what training environment and with what budget. Clearly, Cal POST and FLETC provide far different training environments than smaller police and fire departments and automotive companies can afford to provide. Therefore, training with simulation must be tailored to provide effective, cost-efficient training to the desired user. This tailored design requires an understanding of who you will train, where you will train them, what topic they’re learning and which technology best accomplishes the task for the best price. When those factors are worked out, the possibility of simulator application is boundless, as a few of the following examples will illustrate.

Future Applications
Situational awareness for law enforcement is an important topic across the nation, as police officer deaths have climbed in recent years. The Los Angeles Police Department recently installed a system from the U.K. called Hydra to enhance training for command-level emergency situations. A San Jose firm has just produced a new interactive video simulation that will teach officers how to deal with the mentally ill. Companies like IES and LaserShot continue to enhance shoot/no-shoot situation simulations with ever challenging scenarios. At the other end of the spectrum, Police Simulator 2, by Excalibur Ltd., is a videogame that offers a low-cost, engaging simulation. These simulations are impressive, but they require the right blend of technology, access and learner-centered instruction to ensure the applications can truly enhance performance.

Bottom line: Technology transfer will foster a continuous upgrade to simulator capability, thereby necessitating thorough, front-end research of desired instruction, audience and environment, that will yield a more focused view of potential technological alternatives, aimed at improving human performance.

Eric Totten recently received his master’s degree from UCF and is currently working as a Research Associate at the Institute for Simulation and Training where he has been part of several simulation and learning technology studies for LE and other first responders
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