by Gerhard Chroust, Karin Rainer and Markus Roth
The importance of preparedness against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) dangers is growing immanently. SimRad.NBC generates the foundation for a user- and practice-oriented simulation and communication tool for first responders in such emergency scenarios.
In case of a CBRN emergency, first responders (ie fire brigade, emergency medical services and police) must evaluate the situation within minutes and take appropriate action to minimize negative effects on persons and property.
An important problem concerning chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear dangers is that we do not have any inborn, natural sensors with which to recognize most of them, let alone natural, semi-autonomous reactions. It is therefore necessary to provide tools for identifying these dangers. This includes training in how to operate the equipment, interpret measured data, draw correct conclusions and initiate appropriate actions. We must also identify, design, validate and train appropriate behaviour ('best practices') to counteract these dangers. Some best practices might be counterintuitive and, if not well chosen, might negatively interfere with one another (again an area for validation). The choice of the appropriate strategy will often depend on a systemic evaluation of the whole situation, including necessary long-term considerations. This means that in order to cope with such dangers and threats, both first responders and specialists need to be well trained under realistic and practical conditions, including human factors, reactions and inter-organizational communication and cooperation.
Until now, realistic training under 'safe conditions' (like flight simulators) was largely unfeasible; appropriate environments for the safe and realistic reproduction of such situations without creating real dangers were lacking. Modern technology allows both the actual situation and the consequences of various alternative actions to be simulated in a holistic way with real or simulated tools used in emergencies. Beyond the immediate training needs, simulations provide further advantages such as the easy repeatability of a training situation, recording of all details, testing of compatibility of best practices and the visualization of subtle influences. Near-realistic simulation also allows the inclusion of the best practices of experienced practitioners, who can comment according to the 'SIK'-principle ('Seeing Is Knowing'). Additionally, those simulations and tools can be used during real emergencies to predict and plan patterns and where possible to evaluate alternative actions.
Vital to the SimRad-project series is its focus on the needs and demands of the first responders themselves. Besides the scientific recherché of pre-existing international studies, a main source of relevant input for the technical side of research and development is the praxis-driven sight of the first responders. To pay tribute to this focus, the consortium of SimRad.NBC consists, along with two SME R&D partners and a university institute taking care of the systemic and holistic aspects, of the Schwechat Fire Department, the CBRN-Department of the Red Cross Upper Austria and the Research Institute of the Red Cross.
Implicit in the core focus of SimRad.NBC on end-user requirements is its perspective on various positive and negative influences and connections involving technical equipment and the surrounding environment. These forms of influence are used to create a model of different crisis situations. The model - built on system dynamics principles - is designed to visualize relationships between influence factors with and without direct connection. This is the foundation for generating a powerful and above all practical simulation tool, which mirrors the complexities of a real CBRN-crisis. Factors in cause and effect systems such as motivation, risk perception, personal equipment and training experience, are identified and fed into loops or work as multipliers as well as silencers. The output of this model is a map of generic influences and their dependencies.
For this theory-centred part of the project work, the valuable views of the end users and their suggestions and ratings have been gathered in a series of interviews called SimRad.NEEDS. Experienced trainers as well as trainees involved in CBRN-response are asked for their ratings of emergency communication, influences on the first responders and current models of training and practice with respect to simulating 'invisible dangers'. New and astonishing findings reveal the right path to the analysis of similarities and differences between the different groups of first responders.
The current project SimRad.NBC began in 2007. On completion in November 2009, it will be immediately succeeded by SimRad.COMP. Based upon the foundations of its predecessor, SimRad.COMP will take further steps to generate feasible pre-prototypes for a simulation and communication tool-pack to tackle 'invisible CBRN-dangers'. Both projects are supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit) within the KIRAS Security Research Programme.
Technical Project Leader
Ziehesberger Elektronik, Austria
Research Institute of the Red Cross, Austria