The 411 on Simulation Training and Active Shooters

Lisa Eifert

While it’s sometimes hard to accept, the reality is that large-scale active shooter massacres are very much part of our world. The mandate has been clear for schools, businesses, and other organizations looking to protect their constituents: Adequate planning and preparation are essential. But what constitutes “adequate”—particularly in our increasingly technologically-enabled world? In fact, tomorrow’s definition will be different than today’s, just as today’s definition is different than yesterday’s.

One of the biggest developments positioned to change how we plan for and respond to active shooter events? Improved modeling and simulation methods. Here’s a closer look at what they are, and why they may play a vital role in minimizing casualties and maximizing recovery during an active shooter event.

Less Guesswork, More Data

Do you really want to be operating on limited conjecture when it comes to saving the lives of your community members? Every active shooter event is different. Factor in the combination of near-infinite possible details and scant data available pertaining to active shooter scenarios,  and many emergency responses ultimately rely on little more than guesswork.

Explain Larry M. Bryant, Ph.D., M.SAME, and Kenneth W. Herrle, P.E., CPP, M.SAME in an article for The Military Engineer, a publication of the Society of American Military Engineers, “When responding to these scenarios, there is much more to consider than simply deploying security forces, evacuating individuals through the nearest exits, or blindly sheltering in-place. It also is critical to know what the next probable step of the aggressor(s) is and what is the most effective method of neutralizing the situation at hand. Furthermore, planning should consider the number of potential casualties (injuries) and fatalities that may occur. It should ascertain the number of security forces, first responders and ambulances required for effective response; the estimated quantity of hospital beds and triage medical staff required for treating casualties; and the realistic availability of resources for meeting each of these needs in ‘real time’.”

And while routine drills, “tabletop” exercises, and historic precedence may yield some insights, they can also fall shockingly short in real situations. Enter the newest modeling and simulation tools. Continue Bryant and Herrle, “These models are realistic, dynamic and replete with the capabilities to analyze a full-suite of adverse events, both natural and manmade….By using advanced agent-based modeling with cognitive task analysis, it is possible to analyze the progression of assailants through a facility or installation in any number of hypothetical adverse situations. The objective is to glean critical information from the event and assess multiple possible outcomes based on the effectiveness of response to the event.”

Virtual Reality, Real Takeaways

While early emergency management simulation training systems are primarily aimed at first responders, this technology also promises meaningful applications in both academia and industry. Consider Environmental Tectonics Corporation’s (ETC) Advanced Disaster Management Simulator (ADMS), one training platform available in this space. Created as a training system for command and disaster management teams, the company recently added an active shooter scenario designed specifically for school administrators, teachers and responders.

Set in a four-story school comprising more than 900 students, 26 classrooms, and 33 school administrators, ADMS’s True Simulation technology—which melds artificial intelligence, physics-based simulation, and photo-realistic graphics—allows users to train on a number of different objectives, including everything from lockdown procedures to response training. Furthermore, the simulation can also be configured for other variables, such as multiple active shooters, hazardous materials, and explosive devices available through a SmartModel(TM) Library of objects. The virtual school’s neighboring environment also acknowledges staging areas, roadways, and residential neighborhoods, which may also play into a real-world situation.

Ultimately, whether you’re a school administrator responsible for students, teachers and other members of your community or a business leader tasked with keeping your team members safe, there’s no foolproof way to know how an active shooter will behave; nor is there a foolproof way to know how your constituents will respond. However, virtual simulations offer the next best thing—and a huge step forward—when it comes to preparing for and responding to these dynamic threats.


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