EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — September 13, 2006

Incident Commander
First Responder Crisis Training Simulation

Lucien Parsons
Executive Producer and Director of Platform Products
BreakAway, Ltd., Hunt Valley, MD

Avagene Moore
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased you are with us today! Today's topic is an overview of "Incident Commander: First Responder Crisis Training Simulation."

It is a pleasure to introduce Lucien Parsons, Executive Producer and Director of Platform Products, BreakAway Ltd of Hunt Valley, MD, manufacturer of Incident Commander. Lucien’s professional background includes systems engineering and project management consulting in the enterprise software, finance, and transportation industries. He holds an MBA in Innovation Management and Marketing from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and a MA in International Technology Policy from the Johns Hopkins School.

We are also pleased to have with us today Josh Johns, Marketing Director for the company. Josh is helping Lucien and has been very helpful in preparing for today's session. Welcome Lucien and Josh! Lucien, I now turn the floor to you.

Lucien Parsons: Thank you, Avagene.


Lucien Parsons: It’s my pleasure to be here to talk about Incident Commander, which is a simulation training tool designed to improve communication and cooperation among multi-agency teams responding to natural and manmade disasters.

I’d like to start by introducing our company, BreakAway Ltd:

We are a game development company in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Since 1998, we have produced a number of award-winning entertainment game titles as well as a number of what we call "serious games" that use game-based technology to create simulations for training applications and decision-making analysis for military and government clients, such as the Department of Justice, which helped to fund Incident Commander.

So how did the idea of using a "game" for first responder training begin?

After the Department of Homeland Security created the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) - a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Justice - needed a way to assist smaller local governments across the country to become NIMS-compliant.

Nationwide live training exercises would have been far too expensive, so the NIJ decided that the most cost-effective way to accomplish its goals would be to create a serious game that would teach the Incident Command System. In partnership with the NIJ, BreakAway created Incident Commander, a serious game that models real-world crisis situations within a community.

[Slide 1]

By leveraging our game expertise and technology, we created a training game that offers affordable, accessible, and effective incident management training to first responders from a variety of agencies – and does it in an interactive and engaging way. The game puts players in the role of Incident Commander and scores them on their effectiveness in using the protocols of the incident command system to manage the response. Scenarios include a school hostage situation, a courthouse bombing, a chemical spill, and the aftermath of a major storm.

Here’s a screenshot from the chemical spill scenario:

[Slide 2]

The map shows the location of the incident – in this case, down at the lower center part of the screen, as well as nearby resources and civilians. Triangles represent people; Diamonds represent vehicles, and they are color-coded according to the role they play. Blue for police; purple for EMS; red for fire; yellow for public works and green for civilians.

You can zoom in on the incident by clicking the map, and from this screen you can begin to manage your response by selecting appropriate choices from the menu of actions. You can also click on the area map to manage resources in neighboring areas as well as resources in your town.

[Slide 3]

The scenario continues to unfold as you devise your plan. The chat window in the lower right hand corner reveals new information as it becomes available – such as new information, new available resource points, or new trouble spots. You can also use this window to communicate with other units in multiplayer scenarios, which emphasizes the collaborative aspect of the game, since cooperation and communication are crucial to successful outcomes.

[Slide 4]

The scenarios are designed to be as realistic as possible, with hazards and obstacles that hamper response and affect your response strategy. In this scene from the storm recovery scenario, for instance, downed trees and power wires require you to summon public works resources to clear roads before you can effectively deploy EMS teams. Failure to do so has an impact on how the scenario unfolds – and on your final score.

[Slide 5]

The incident commander can manage all available resources and their allocation, or can delegate the management of these resources to other players. The system offers resources that are relevant to the incident, but by having the player select how to deploy them, it forces you to use your resources wisely.

There is also a status window in the lower center of the screen. This window provides information about the health and condition of units you select in the incident window. This lets you know how your resources are holding up and whether they need to be relieved.

[Slide 6]

At end of exercise, an after action report is displayed to score player performance in a variety of categories. You can determine which areas players are strong and which areas need more work, and individual players can understand which approaches are successful and which are not. Through repeated use of the game, responders will learn to anticipate potential problems in actual crisis situations, and appropriately position personnel, vehicles and other resources to resolve them.

The scenarios are very engaging to play, and the multiplayer approach even encourages competitive play within and between agencies. But the critical point to remember is that the game logic is grounded in NIMS protocols the engagement is helping responders learn vital lessons.

The game can be played solo or with partial teams where not all agencies are represented by players. Solo play allows independent skills development. Partial team play allows smaller jurisdictions to focus only on the roles relevant to them without having to find players to fill the other roles in the game. The current version of Incident Commander allows up to 16 people to play in any role and up to 6 observers to watch and record actions over the Internet or on a local area network (LAN).

Incident Commander was designed to be 508-compliant, and to run on older computers with limited disk space and graphics capabilities. It will run on PCs running Windows 98, Windows 2000, or Windows XP.

Incident Commander is available free of charge to any qualified government agency that requests it. It is designed specifically for small to medium-sized agencies in communities with fewer than 500,000 residents. Requests for copies and more information are available at http://www.incidentcommander.net/

This concludes the presentation portion of today’s chat. I’d like to turn things back to Avagene at this point. Thank you for joining me today to learn about Incident Commander.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Lucien, for your overview of Incident Commander. I am sure there are several questions for you from our audience.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Ken Doige: I have been a first responder (police for many years) and now teach incident command at a Toronto Community College. Can I get a copy for my classes? It would be an excellent teaching tool.

Lucien Parsons: The DOJ is responsible for distributing the copies to all qualified responders. They determine who will get them; however, BreakAway is also in the process of creating a commercial version for academic and corporate use. Please see the website http://www.incidentcommander.net/ and register there.

Rick Tobin
: Can you let us know of one of the communities that has used this so far and reported success? Which response group liked it the best?

Lucien Parsons: We have had requests from all over the world. We have had several hundred first responders test the product. They range from police to fire to school Officials. The Fire community is probably most familiar with the ICS system at this point, and they have been very enthusiastic about its possibilities, but all groups have been positive.

Gerald Isaacson:
How much flexibility is there to change parameters of the scenarios?

Lucien Parsons: We are shipping the product with editors to allow the users to change all of the parameters in the scenarios: i.e. number of responders, locations, resources available, even modify the responder types that are available.

Nancy Mills: This version is free. Is there a charge for upgrades? Also, are there biological and/or radiological incident scenarios?

Lucien Parsons: The version that DOJ will be sending out has already gone through one round of upgrades. Response to the product will determine future upgrades.

Michael Wallmark: Are these pre-loaded generic maps or can local maps be loaded to make it more realistic?

Lucien Parsons: Local county maps can be loaded and populated with your available resources.

Scott Eyestone: A favorable comment: we have found Incident Commander to be a good "companion" when we are training EOC staff in the use of incident management software - DMIS Tools in our case. There was a terrific session where IC was running on one screen and ICP folks where working with it while EOC folks in the room were working DMIS Tools projected on a separate screen. The EOC folks reacted to IC play and used DMIS Tools functions for situation awareness dissemination and documenting EOC support actions. The combo worked great for training a total response team!

[DMIS is Disaster Management Interoperability Services, see http://www.dmi-services.org ]

Lucien Parsons: Thanks, Scott. We intended IC to be used as part of a broader training curriculum, and it's great to see people do so.

Steve Reichman: What are the criteria for an agency to qualify (short bullet list)? Can you review that if not answered already? I am Emergency Management Coordinator for a Pennsylvania borough of (8000+) residents. Would my agency qualify?

Lucien Parsons: Unfortunately, BreakAway has no control or input to the qualifications for distribution that the DOJ will use. However, again, we will be creating a commercial version. I encourage you to register in any case

Cynthia Matherne: I am the Louisiana Region 1 (Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines Parishes) Emergency Planner funded under the HRSA Bioterrorism Grant for Hospitals. Would this product be useful for hospital ICS training?

Lucien Parsons: It is designed from a first responder viewpoint, rather than first receiver. We are also working with a hospital in Washington DC on the creation of a HEICS training tool. IC would be useful for the situation control aspects of a hospital situation, however.

Cliff Sweet: Scott already beat me on this one. This is an excellent tool to use in conjunction with the DMIS tool set or other incident management software. We have used it when training US Navy EOC staff at NS Norfolk and simulated one of the IC scenarios to create an incident in DMIS. The staff then followed the unfolding scenario in IC and utilized DMIS as the collaborative and interoperability vehicle. We accomplished two training objectives - training the proficiency of DMIS and ICS together.

Lucien Parsons: Thanks Cliff

Timothy Gilmore: How long can the process take to get the software, and will it run on Windows Server 2003? And finally, are the scenarios in line with the 15 national planning scenarios?

Lucien Parsons: The distribution plan is under the control of the DOJ. We hope that they will start shipping soon. Incident Commander runs on a peer-to-peer model and doesn't require a server. It will run on Windows 98, 2000, and XP, but we haven't tested on a server. Some of the scenarios are based on the National Planning Scenarios, while others are not.

Speedy: What level of prior training does a participant need to work with IC? Would NIMS 300-400 be sufficient? How much prior experience would be needed?

Lucien Parsons: Incident Commander is designed to be used during all levels of training. In solo mode, you can use it as a way to familiarize yourself with the roles and responsibilities of the various command positions, and in a multi-user setting, you can practice implementing your local plans.

Paul John: Can this be integrated with Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO)?

Lucien Parsons: We haven't integrated it technically, but IC can be used as a visualization tool with any other type of exercise, even live exercises.

Ken Gilbert: Will the scenario pack include natural events such as flash flooding, hurricane, tsunami, etc? Or is it mainly scripted to man-made events?

Lucien Parsons: The scenarios include: a severe storm aftermath, a chemical spill, a school hostage situation, and a bomb threat. Additional scenarios can be created by the user.

Lori Wieber: Does the play incorporate any aspect of non-governmental 'critical infrastructure' responders, such as electric or gas companies (if not now are there plans for it at some point)?

Lucien Parsons: Public Works are integrated. We have electrical, gas and water problems. The ability to remove debris and unblock roads are critical elements in the scenarios.

Lori Wieber: I appreciate that public works are incorporated. There is a need for gas and electric folks to help ensure things are safe early on in the response. Do you foresee any building along that aspect?

Lucien Parsons: We include the Public Works responders as well as specific hazards, so that you can practice any protocol in that area that is needed.

Speedy: More a comment than question: as an ICS instructor I can tell you that students must have some level of ICS training to be efficient in any type of scenario and real-life play.

Timothy Gilmore: Can ArcView maps or shapefiles be used with the software or is it stand-alone?

Lucien Parsons: It uses ESRI maps for the county maps, but does not import shape files. It can be used stand-alone without any change to the maps; however, you can insert your own maps.

Simon: What compliance to fire fighting standards does the simulation have? 1561?

Lucien Parsons: IC is designed for practicing the NIMS protocols, not specific fire fighting or other practices.


Amy Sebring: Are there any Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and or Multi Agency Coordination (MAC) system roles available to be involved in the game play? Is this something that can be edited in perhaps?

Lucien Parsons: There are not specific positions in the simulation for those roles. However, we have seen it used as part of a larger simulation where those roles are. It is important to locate the EOC properly, however.

R. Blenderma: You mentioned you can build your own scenario; does that include public health emergency scenarios such as a pandemic flu or bioterrorism incident?

Lucien Parsons: The simulation doesn't include specific responses or conditions along those lines but I can see how you would be able to create a scenario with similar characteristics. It would require some creativity, however.

Timothy Gilmore:
How do personnel within the software communicate (replicate radio comms, or email, etc.)?

Lucien Parsons: We use a chat window in the simulation. Comms from the system regarding events or suggestions are routed according to protocol and are modified by activation of the Communications Section. Most sessions we have been involved in so far have either used their actual equipment (radios) or speakerphones for communication outside of the simulation.

Does the system have any validation to any emergency management standards at all? And do you believe you need this validation to become part of any government simulation?

Lucien Parsons: There is not a specific certification, but IC is designed to be NIMS compliant.

Amy Sebring:
I am not quite clear on using your own maps Lucien. You said you cannot import shape files. Will it use JPEGs that are captured from something like ArcGIS?

Lucien Parsons: There are two maps in each scenario. The Area map is drawn directly from ESRI mapobjects. The Tactical map is created from a tileset that we created. You could use JPEGS for certain features.

Timothy Gilmore:
When a specific scenario is played out, is it more random then next time that scenario is played again?

Lucien Parsons: There are randomizing elements, yes, depending on the scenario, multiple events are possible and your actions may trigger different outcomes.

Is it NIMS compliant/validated? I only ask because we require something to measure against.

Lucien Parsons: Good question. The DOJ has done extensive validation of the software, and is distributing it free of charge to qualified personnel as an exercise tool. Playing IC will not teach all of the elements necessary for NIMS compliance, however. It is designed to be integrated into your training curriculum.


Avagene Moore: Thank you, Lucien! We greatly appreciate your effort and time on our behalf. Josh, we appreciate you as well. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements.

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

We have one new Partner to announce today - Montana University System, http://www.montana.edu. Lowell Goetting, Disaster Mitigation Coordinator, is the Point of Contact to the EIIP. We welcome the Montana University System to the EIIP! If you are interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the "Partnership for You" link on the EIIP Virtual Forum homepage http://www.emforum.org.

If interested in receiving announcements of the EIIP Virtual Forum sessions, please note that subscribing for the EIIP Mail List is much easier now. See our homepage http://www.emforum.org and subscribe today. Again, the transcript of today's session will be posted later today and you will be able to access it from our home page. An announcement will also be sent to our Mail Lists when the transcript is available.

Join us on September 27 when we will discuss DOT's Report to Congress on Catastrophic Evacuation Plan Evaluation. Very interesting!

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience! Before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Lucien Parsons for a fine job. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned! Thank you, Lucien! Great job!