A tabletop exercise can offer an easy-to-execute and cost-effective means of simulating an emergency CBRN or HazMat situation in order to test operational response, to exercise your command structure and to improve the functionality of your team.
The less formal and low-stress nature of the training environment however, means there is also the risk of delivering a far from authentic learning experience.
Any teaching method that is relying on hypothetical scenarios or the passing of notes in order to replicate real instrument readings is never going to be able to compete with the exacting demands of a real-time, hands-on scenario.
A tabletop exercise can also be a very difficult environment in which to test the concept of vital skills such as surveying reconnaissance, instrument reading and reporting. Similarly too, it's near impossible to recreate the effects of specific hazards, multiple sources or meteorological factors.
When you are looking to replicate the unique challenges of a counter-terrorism, nuclear or HazMat emergency, realism is going to be key in ensuring you're testing your trainees' true operational capacity.
Injecting realism into a tabletop exercise
One innovative means of achieving the next level of realism for CBRN and HazMat training is to combine all the best features of the traditional tabletop approach (ease of use, simplicity etc) with all the advantages of the latest cutting-edge computer game technology.
The PlumeSIM system enables students to use a Gamepad controller to manoeuvre physical simulators in real time throughout a virtual threat environment.
It has been designed to provide management of chemical and radiological simulators that can respond to a broad range of user-defined threat scenarios and with the ability to train multiple personnel at one time.
Instructors have the freedom to select and set the parameters for the activation of the CBRN/HazMat releases - down to the specifics of the type of threat, the unique environmental conditions and the release/delivery of single or multiple sources. If desired, the system can also be used in a classroom mode for pre-exercise familiarisation.
Perhaps most crucial of all, there is the facility for After Action Review (AAR) to review the entre exercise or to focus on one specific element. A GPS tracking system means instructors can map their trainees' movements and monitor their instrument usage to identify when mistakes have been made, rectify errors and suggest areas for improvement.
The PlumeSIM-SMART application is an App-based training system that offers the ability to deliver practical and highly engaging tabletop, live field and off-site release exercises and that incorporates a full range of HazMat and CWA threats and releases.
A wide variety of scenarios can be rapidly deployed - from nuclear reactor incidents to toxic substance releases and industrial accidents. The app simulates single or multiple threats; real-time variations in plume dispersion, wind direction and velocity; and the effects of evaporation, deposition, persistency, radioactive fallout and decay.
It's also possible to save these scenarios in a library for future use or to share with other participants. For instructors seeking to minimize their initial investment, the PlumeSIM-SMART system is also available on a comprehensive subscription scheme including the offering of pay-as-you-go exercises.
The key to effective and long-lasting learning lies in being able to create authentic exercise scenarios that are realistic, challenging and engaging. They also need to be cost-effective to carry out, easy to set up and offer a high degree of flexibility for instructors to tailor to their specific training needs.
As both the PlumeSIM and PlumeSIM-SMART systems demonstrate, computer game technology is proving a powerful tool in bringing traditional tabletop exercises to life and injecting a much-needed degree of realism into CBRN and HazMat training.