The Site Security Planning Tool will use virtual reality to help prepare agents for real-life threats.

The Secret Service is readying a virtual training tool that uses video-game technology and 3D modeling to simulate real-life security-threat scenarios agents may face in the field.

Called the Site Security Planning Tool (SSPT), the new virtual training environment -- which should be available to train agents by spring -- emulates a miniature model tool called Tiny Town Secret Service instructors have been using for the past 40 years, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Like Tiny Town before it, the new virtual environment will create a model of different sites, such as an airport, a stadium, an urban rally site, and a hotel interior -- but on three individual kiosks that will allow trainees to experience potential security incidents, such as chemical attacks or bomb threats, in each site as if they're playing a computer game.

Each kiosk can accommodate up to four students who can work together using a 55-inch Perceptive Pixel touchscreen technology to come up with a security plan for how to handle a potential incident. Like computer games, the environment features both a first-person and third-person perspective so trainees have different views of the site under attack to better devise a security plan.

Each kiosk has an attached projector and camera and is powered by a computer running Virtual Battle Space (VBS2) as the base simulation game. The environment also can be displayed on a wall-mounted LED 3D TV monitor to help instructors use the tool to teach an entire class.

The DHS's science & technology directorate helped pay for the new training environment, which also includes a simulated chemical plume dispersion feature that helps agents make decisions about how to react. The tool was developed by the Secret Service's Security Incident Modeling Lab at the James J. Rowley Training Center near Washington, D.C.

Future enhancements the Secret Service plans to make include models for determining the resulting health effects and crowd behaviors of a chemical, radiological, or biological attack. That simulation will help more adequately prepare agents to react to scenarios in which life-saving of both dignitaries and members of the public is required.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributing Writer

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer, journalist, and therapeutic writing mentor with more than 25 years of professional experience. Her areas of expertise include technology, business, and culture. Elizabeth previously lived and worked as a full-time journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City; she currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, hiking with her dogs, traveling, playing music, yoga, and cooking.

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