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Virtual training exercise a world first
CFA has used virtual reality software to run a world first training exercise in the north east.
(Report by CFA Computer Simulation Specialist, Aaron Stockton)
When we were asked by CFA District 23 (D23) if we had anything that could exercise a Local Command Facility (LCF) for their annual LCF exercises, I saw this as a good opportunity to go one better and exercise a crew leader to enhance the LCF exercise experience.
A bit nervous on how it'd go on the day, we pushed on with the development and, with no other case studies to learn from, it was developed from what I envisaged in my head.
We were the first agency in the world to really conduct an exercise like this so there were some bugs with the simulator but the simulator provider supported us right up to the exercise commencement to ensure that it'd perform well. The scenario is flexible enough to meet a wide range of objectives, the primary objective for the D23 was to test the LCFs in preparation for the upcoming bushfire season.
The exercise begins with a pager message to a first responding tanker crew that'll don their gear, climb into the tanker, put in a turn out message, receive further information and respond to the incident. However, the tanker doesn't move, there's a projector screen set up in front of the tanker windscreen that displays a virtual environment which replicates the tanker crew responding to an incident.
A microphone is in the cabin of the tanker so the exercise control team can hear what the crew are saying and can respond to their requests or if they'd like to move the tanker to another location. Once they decide to alight the tanker they literally alight from the tanker and move to another screen which is the 'on foot' screen. Here they can walk around the incident using a game controller such as a gamepad.
When tasking personnel, the exercise control team can hear their requests and make it happen in the virtual world. If communication to vicfire, other resources or other locations is required, this can be done via radio as it would be in the real world. Our aim is to get our exercises as close to real life to increase the immersion and benefits gained from this exercise. As the scenario continues the IC (participants) will more than likely transfer control to a team of members operating in the LCF.
From here the scenario will continue and the on scene personnel will report to the LCF and communication will occur as per an actual fire, some roles will be role-played such as the extra resources crew leaders, aircraft and vicfire however the visuals will be on the screen such as the aircraft dropping water or retardant and tankers arriving and working. We can also have an actual FCV drive into the engine bay to assist with the ops point.
The exercise uses a series of XVR products to provide injects, visual, audio and exercise management functionality to enhance the participants experience and create greater immersion. XVR is currently the only product to have wildfire included in the licence fee and they'll be including flooding capability in the future, they are also keeping a close eye on us to improve their simulators to ensure they keep at the forefront of emergency management simulation. The products we use are:
XVR On Scene
On scene provides the visual and audio stimulus for the first responding crew leader (and crew if in place), it also spreads the fire across the landscape in either a pre-determined path or by using the IGNIS fire spread calculator. In this particular exercise we set a pre-determined fire based in bushland in Wonga Park. The participants have the ability to move through the environment as if they were in a vehicle or on foot. This simulator has the ability to exercise almost any operational role within an incident including but not limited to crew leader, sector commander, air observer and air attack supervisor (we role played the aircraft in this exercise).
XVR Resource Management
This system allows us to respond vehicles from their home location and it'll determine the path and the time the resource takes to get to the incident/fire. It'll also allow us to track the resources on the incident/fire ground. It can also track the amount of water used from each vehicle, the fuel remaining plus much more. This system isn't seen by the participants.
XVR Crisis Media
Initially developed as a social media & media simulator, we now use it predominantly as a timeline/Master Sequence of Events List (MSEL). It has the capability to replicate (to a degree) social media and media sites to exercise agency media personnel during an event.
These systems will have the ability to talk to each other in the near future, at this stage there's a bit of manual work that when a resource arrives on scene in XVR RM, we then have to manually have to put them into the virtual environment in XVR OS so they're visible to the participants.
The exercise is proving to have a number of benefits, these benefits include. but are not limited to:
- Realistic communication and interaction – participants of this week's exercises have mentioned that this form of exercising has increased the realism, no longer are they talking to a exercise control team that has scripted responses. They're getting realistic responses from fire ground personnel who are tasking crews and based on the crews actions, the fire activity may change. Two specific levels of AIIMS (level 1 & 2 are being exercised in this exercise)
- Ability to monitor communication break-down and how to rectify the issue
- Ability to effectively test and exercise the LCF and LCF personnel.
- Exercise and provide skills maintenance to crew leaders in bush and grass fire scenarios
- Visuals and audio provide stimulus to assist in effective decision making
- Virtual environment and resources means that operational vehicles aren't taken offline to conduct a similar exercise in the live environment. We have the ability conduct the exercise without the tanker if it's not available, we'd just change the projector image so that it looks like their looking out of the tanker windscreen.
Being the first of four exercises, there's still areas for us to improve however it's like the level 1 incident controller exercises we've been conducting for 10 years now, we'll keep continuing to improve where we can with the resources available.
Paul Cockerill and I strive to make the exercises as realistic as possible in an immersive environment, we're getting close as there were crew leader participants sweating and losing track of time during these exercises.
The series of exercises we ran in D23 were the first of their kind for Australasia and the world. Two days after we ran our first one, Lisbon (Portugal) conducted their exercise similar to us. Italy and the UK are looking at conducting similar exercises in the near future.
France have conducted a larger scale over the last couple weeks in a location that’s purpose built for the exercise, CFA are still mobile and able to deliver to members locally. Agencies from around the world have been watching us with interest for this form of exercising, taking lessons learned and ideas to enhance delivery.