Emergency response agencies turn to video game training

Published 9 May 2007

Virtual simulations can hone skills quickly and at a cheaper cost than live exercises; Aptima leads the way with Red Cape software

The military has long sought to find cheap training alternatives, and since the 1980s much of the focus has been on video games, the idea being that the reflexes required to master Space Invaders and memorize the Doom environment could be easily applied to infantry training scenarios. (The same idea, of course, has been quite succesful with flight simulators.) Those interested in learning more about the joint history of warfare and gaming can consult an article one of us wrote for the Washington Monthly. That article, however, failed to touch on another interesting application of video games for security purposes: training firefighters and other emergency responders.

According to Emergency Management, government and military agencies nationwide are actively seeking out virtual simulation systems as an adjunct and partial replacement for expensive training drills. Leading the way is Woburn, Massachusetts-based Aptima, which produces the Red Cape disaster simulation software. Adaptable to different locales, Red Cape uses a fifteen-minute series of repetitive and mentally taxing exercises to hone skills under challenging conditions.”The idea is to put some stress on you, but also to make it look realistic,” said one Washington State emergency official. “I think it’s a good way to gain experience typically gained by going through an actual event.” After participants finish their drills, the program — based on the U.S. Army Research Institute’s “Think Like a Commander” program — is followed by a live discussion between stakeholders, where an instructor points out mistakes, distributes computer-generated feedback, and encourages users to assess their own performance.