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SUMMIT enables disaster preparedness training

Sandia’s Chuck John uses the SUMMIT iPad app to visualize calculated building damage during NLE 11 exercise conducted in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Photo by Steffan Schulz.

Recently, first responders and officials participated in training exercises enabled by a new iPad application that allows them to interact with computer models of post-disaster effects such as building damage.

The pilot of the Standard Unified Modeling, Mapping and Integration Toolkit (SUMMIT) took place during the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE-11).

Drills like NLE-11 are essential in training firemen, medics, police officers, and other officials to efficiently work towards mitigating the damage that arises from natural disasters or terrorist events, said Karim Mahrous, the SUMMIT project lead at Sandia National Laboratories, where the software was developed.

“Almost by definition, however, exercise planners have an inherent challenge in creating drill scenarios that can be vividly imagined and thus acted upon by participants,” Mahrous continued. “Typically, first responders playing in an exercise must pretend and dream up how a damaged building might look. With SUMMIT, there’s no more pretending.”

First responders role-playing at NLE-11, which took place in Jonesboro, Arkansas, could utilize iPads with the SUMMIT software, while others at the Washington, DC, central command post were able to see the visualization software on large screens. This enhanced, 3-D virtual view of damage available to participants in the field is expected to create a new level of realism and a common operating picture for players in future exercises at national, regional, and local levels.

“The SUMMIT software tool, I believe, will be a phenomenal training aid for all responders within our county,” said David Moore, director of emergency management for Craighead County, where Jonesboro is located. “By having a graphical view of damaged areas, it’s much easier to comprehend what’s going on in the exercise and thus make smarter, firmer decisions.”

SUMMIT is designed to improve the cycle of activities that emergency response teams undertake, including pre-event planning and equipping, training and exercises and evaluation and improvement.

Though current modeling tools are effective, they all incorporate different assumptions that currently require a large amount of time, resources and human effort in order to properly synchronize each model’s output.

By creating a collaboration environment that allows dynamic linking of “best-in-class” modeling and simulation tools and underlying data, SUMMIT enhances the effectiveness of preparedness activities while reducing the time and cost needed to train for, analyze, and respond to real or potential incidents.

“Many organizations and government agencies have already made significant investments in modeling and simulation, so this is not meant to be yet another modeling tool,” said Jalal Mapar, the US Department of Homeland Security program manager who oversees the SUMMIT program. “What is urgently needed then is not a whole new set of models, but an easy, quick and user-friendly way to access and link together the most appropriate models for a given emergency drill.”

SUMMIT links together models and provides an integrated view of data results. The software offers a graphical view of damaged areas, making it easier for exercise participants to comprehend what’s going on in the exercise and make better decisions. Image courtesy of Sandia Laboratories.

SUMMIT’s architecture will help a range of emergency preparedness professionals from the federal, regional and local levels tap into existing models to ensure consistency, accuracy and robustness when exercise scenarios are developed and played out.

Using various models and calculations, SUMMIT can input details on buildings and infrastructure, casualties and other key pieces of information. During exercises, it will visualize an integrated “story” that can be made available for all players in a master control cell, much like what occurred in Washington, DC, during NLE-11.

The broader goal, said Mapar, is to make SUMMIT a pervasive part of preparedness and response for emergency managers, responders and exercise teams in the US federal, state, and local governments.

A version of this article first appeared on the Sandia National Laboratories website.

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