PULLMAN, Wash. — As part of an initiative to improve homeland security, researchers at Washington State University are working with California-based EON Reality Inc. in the development of a FIrst Responders’ Simulation and Training (FIRST) Center at Washington State University.

The FIRST Center provides a virtual environment in which first responders will conduct realistic “hands-on” training in various aspects of homeland security at a fraction of the alternative real-life training cost. This center is designed to train emergency and security personnel and first responders in areas such as handling and disposing of dangerous devices or chemical/biological materials, infrastructure anti-terrorist protection, and simulation of collaboration environments during emergencies.

The importance of simulation for training emergency response personnel has been reemphasized recently in a National Research Council (2002) report. The report recommends that the office of Homeland Security and FEMA, in conjunction with the state and local officials, collaborate to develop and deploy threat-based simulation models and training modules for Emergency Operations Center training, for identification of weaknesses in systems and staff, and for testing and qualifying EOC teams throughout the country.

Tools in this category use simulations to mimic and present situations created by occurrence of a disaster event to human training subjects with the intent to improve their capabilities for effective emergency response. These tools extend from those targeted at decision makers to those targeted at first responders. The simulation tools for training responders to be deployed in different areas impacted by the disaster use one or more computer monitors to graphically display the simulated unfolding of a disaster event, and the response actions.

The center will be one in a nationwide network of training and research centers established by EON to address various aspects of homeland security, from physical terrorism to border security to bio-terrorism. The centers enable U.S. government agencies, including federal, state and local agencies, to efficiently develop, educate and train appropriate personnel in all phases of homeland security including detection, preparation, prevention, protection, response and recovery.

WSU has extensive virtual reality research expertise in areas related to realistic interactions between human and virtual objects in immersive environments, bi-directional data integration between virtual reality environments and traditional commercial engineering applications (e.g. CAD), and Internet-based real-time collaboration between dissimilar software systems (e.g. CAD and ergonomics). They are on the cutting-edge of virtual assembly, applying virtual reality to real industry needs. In particular, they developed a Virtual Assembly Design Environment, a virtual reality-based engineering application that companies can use for assembly simulations. They have also been instrumental in the establishment of the Virtual Assembly Technology Consortium, which brings together industry, government agencies, and universities to address research, technology development and deployment, and standards issues related to virtual reality, digital prototyping, modeling, simulation and visualization techniques.

Eon’s Homeland Security and Defense Center is unique because it addresses the current need for networked and smoothly integrated systems that can be used by a variety of responders. First responders can, for the first time, share fully interactive simulations from a multi- wall immersive display, head mounted VR devices, laptops or even Web-based solutions.

“Our joint approach allows all applications to be fully scalable from desktop PCs to large multi-processor computers,’’ said Dr. Sankar Jayaram and Dr. Uma Jayaram, professors in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU. “All training can be conducted either on line utilizing normal PCs, immersed using head mounted displays, or in a theater environment using stereoscopic large screen display systems.’’

“This partnership adds a very important component to our ongoing efforts within Homeland Security,’’ said Mats W. Johannsson, president of EON Reality. “Bringing together the expertise of WSU in interaction between humans and virtual objects and environments with EON’s scalable software and seamlessly integrated display solutions will provide an effective resource for research and training. First responders can learn how to move/operate safely and quickly and make faster, more informed decisions. We believe that this approach provides a very cost-effective method of deploying Homeland security training as it reduces field exercise time, increases retention rate and even provides self-study capabilities.”

The initial investment was made possible through grants and support furnished by WSU, WSU’s sponsors, EON Reality and Viztek. Funded as a research, teaching, and training facility, the FIRST Center will be also used by graduate and undergraduate students in the university’s program.

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EON Reality, Inc. is the world’s leading interactive visual content management software provider. EON’s powerful software solutions are helping companies increase sales, communicate product functionality more effectively and decrease the cost of service, training and technical support. EON’s products have a high level of interactivity, simulation realism, rendering quality and integrated data exchange capability optimized for high performance on today’s standard PCs and Internet. Several large corporations such as Office Depot, Suzuki, Dell, Lexmark, Canon, Hon, Samsung, Shimano, Audi, Nokia and Bank of America are using EON’s software solutions. For more information about EON Reality, Inc., please visit www.eonreality.com or contact us via e-mail at marketing@EONreality.com or call (949) 460-2000.