Magazine article National Defense

Emergency Response Teams Rehearse in Digital Simulators

Magazine article National Defense

Emergency Response Teams Rehearse in Digital Simulators

Article excerpt

A simulation-training suite called the virtual emergency response training simulation (VERTS), is being designed for use by National Guard and Reserve weapons of mass destruction-civil support teams (WMD-CSTs). These specially trained units have been assigned responsibility to intervene in cases of domestic terrorist attacks involving nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapons.

The first trial training system is scheduled for delivery to the New York City area WMD-CST during the first quarter of 2001, according to a spokesman for the Army Simulation Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM) in Orlando, Fla. The trainer will be assigned to the 2nd WMD-CST Military Support Detachment, at Scotia Air National Guard Base, N.Y

A second VERTS station will be located at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., home to the U.S. Army Chemical School. A third VERTS suite will be situated at STRICOM. In addition, a partial VERTS suite will be installed at the Advanced Distributed Learning Collaborative Laboratory (ADL Co-Lab), at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), in Alexandria, Va.

Once in place, these four VERTS stations can then be linked to form a distributed learning tool, thus enabling dispersed units to train together in a virtual environment.

Virtual urban models of New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.--including streets, trees, vehicles, and buildings--are being developed at IDA, officials reported. One model has already been put to use. A copy of virtual Los Angeles was made available to the local sheriff's office to aid in security preparations for this year's Democratic National Convention.

VERTS allows CST units to do much of their training in private, said Mart Kraus, program manager for human simulation and VERTS project director for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), in Orlando. This, he said, "does not alarm the public or educate our enemies about how we will respond and what our capabilities are."

VERTS trainers will be located inside National Guard Armories or on Air Guard bases, he said. The plan is for 32 CST units to have individual VERTS systems by 2006.

Creating Teams

Congress established the CSTs in 1998, when it appropriated funds for 10 teams. Those teams now are certified and in operation. Another 17 CSTs are in training. Five more CST teams are planned, but have not yet been funded by Congress, said Col. Jay S. Steinmetz, VERTS program director.

Steinmetz directs the Consequence Management Program, in the Pentagon's Office of Military Support. During the planning for the 1996 Summer Olympics, Steinmetz advised local authorities in Atlanta on the possibility of WMD attacks.

Each VERTS team has 22 members, drawn from local National Guard and Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Reserve units. The teams' primary job is to assist civilian first-responders, fire and rescue and law enforcement units after a terrorist strike against a civilian target. In addition, the reams can be called in to help local hazardous-material crews deal with industrial or transportation accidents involving toxic substances such as chlorine, phosgene or hydrochloric acid.

The decision to give this responsibility to the Guard and Reserve, rather than active-duty armed forces, was due partly to the posse comitatus federal law restricting the use of military personnel within the borders of the United States.

Another important factor, Sreinmetz explained: "Guard and Reserve units were already scattered across the country and well established within their communities."

A VERTS suite consists of two virtual-reality "immersion" training stations. The entire suite occupies about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet of space, according to STRICOM. Inside the stations, troops wear Level-A chemical suits that encapsulate them completely, isolating them from the external environment.

The Level-A suits guard against toxic inhalants and protect skin from chemical blistering agents. …

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