If a disaster strikes, will you really be ready? Through live presentations, aided by multimedia computer simulations, the U.S. Army’s EPiCS (Emergency Preparedness Incident Command Simulation) program is helping federal, state and local government workers to hone their preparedness against terrorist attacks and other real emergencies.
In a demonstration of EPiCS at this fall’s Maritime Conference and Expo 2006 in New York City, personnel from multiple government agencies carried out a scenario involving a mock bombing in Nimstown, Miss., a fictional port city on the Gulf of Mexico.
EPiCS also presents the same “war game” demo at other venues throughout the United States, according to EPiCS team member Julie A. Seton, deputy director of the U.S. Army’s TRAC-WSMR (Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.).
Replete with explosions, shooters and potential chemical contamination, the EPiCS demo uses elements from the DHS (Dept. of Homeland Security) Council’s National Planning Scenario #6 — Chemical Attack — Toxic Industrial Chemicals.
In the demonstration, the threat against Nimstown consists of a small band of terrorists associated with the Al-Qaeda movement. These terrorists have been planning port attacks from sleeper cells in Huntsville, Ala., and Gulf Port, Miss. The attackers are carrying arms and explosives. They also have the ability to maintain multiple modes of communications.
Through a live enactment, personnel from the U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and Alexandria (Va.) Fire Department play the roles of Nimstown emergency responders.
The responders communicate in real time over radio and a computer network. Meanwhile, two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D) computer simulation enters the picture in a variety of ways, most visibly through portrayals of fire and explosions.
The purpose of the demo is to illustrate the EPiCS exercise process with a “specific and relevant example,” Seton says.
But dozens of federal, state and local agencies have also taken part in “custom” exercise processes, prepared by EPiCS to meet their real life needs.
In total, members of the EPiCs team have produced 18 custom exercises. “An average of seven organizations have participated in each exercise,” Seton notes.
Agencies can use these custom exercises to train crisis managers, develop and evaluate operations plans, and analyze their command and control functions.
According to Seton, EPiCS is flexible enough to handle both single level, simple command structures and simultaneous, multiple level, multiple organizational command structures.
At the close of the demo in New York City, the emergency responders simulated the “hot wash” and analysis sessions employed in real EPiCS exercises for forming recommendations and improvement plans.
John W. North, battalion chief, Special Operations, in the Alexandria (Va.) Fire Department, told the audience that his agency’s participation in two custom EPiCS exercises has pointed up the importance of solid communications with hospitals to ensure accurate casualty reports.
Although the EPiCS demo focuses on a terrorist attack, EPiCS was first formed before 9/11. Back in 1999, the National Institute of Justice provided funding to TRAC-WSMR to create the system for the public safety community for emergency preparedness training, rehearsal, and operational plan validation.
TRAC-WSMR is still in charge of EPiCS configuration and development. However, Advanced Systems Technology Inc. (AST) is contracted with TRAC-WSMR to perform scenario development, exercise execution, and after-action reporting.
Custom exercises are available to U.S. Army staff free of charge. For organizations outside of the Army, fees start at $150,000 per exercise. Yet for non-Army agencies, these fees are reimbursable through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, says Seton, who is also program manager for scenarios and wargaming at AST.
At the same time, The State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College is looking at integrating EPiCS into its curriculum, said Larry Howard, another demo participant, in an interview later. Other EPiCS team members taking part in the demo at the Maritime Expo included Joseph Watson, sergeant in the Special Operations Division of the Alexandria Police Department and Daniel Croce, captain in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and division manager, Transportation, Logistics and Management at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Global Maritime and Transportation School (USMAA-GMATS).