Sandia LabNews

New tool allows responders to visualize post-event disaster environments

Using iPad™ mobile devices, emergency preparedness officials and first responders participating in
FEMA’s National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE-11) in May were able, for the first time, to make use of a new, science-based software tool that allows them to view and modify accurate models of building damage and other post-event disaster effects.

With funding and direction from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology directorate and support from FEMA’s National Exercise and Simulation Center, Sandia developed the tool, known as the Standard Unified Modeling, Mapping, and Integration Toolkit (SUMMIT). It was piloted at the NLE-11 exercise.

“Say you’re a fireman, medic, or police officer and you’re participating in an annual exercise to hone your preparedness skills,” says Karim Mahrous (8116), the
SUMMIT project lead at Sandia. “Such drills, you realize, are vital in mitigating the damage that might arise from natural disasters or terrorist events.

“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,” Karim continues.“ 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.”

“The SUMMIT software tool, I believe, will be a phenomenal training aid for all responders in our county,” says David Moore, director of emergency management for Craighead County in Arkansas, which played a key role at NLE-11. “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.”

Realism and ‘best-of-class’ models

NLE-11 took place May 16-20. First responders roleplaying in the exercise in Jonesboro, Ark., had iPads available to them with the SUMMIT software, while others in a Washington, D.C., central command post were be able to see the visualization software on large screens. This enhanced, 3-D virtual view of damage available to players 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.

“Preparing responders to work within a rapidly evolving, diverse, and multijurisdictional environment — often with limited or quickly changing situational understanding — is a major challenge,” says Jalal Mapar, the DHS/S&T program manager who oversees the SUMMIT program.

SUMMIT significantly improves the cycle of activities that emergency response teams undertake, including pre-event planning and equipping, training and exercises, and evaluation and improvement. By creating a collaborative environment that allows dynamic linking of “best-in-class” modeling and simulation tools and underlying data, SUMMIT increases preparedness effectiveness while decreasing 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,” says Jalal. “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.” Though current modeling tools are effective, they all incorporate different assumptions that currently require a large amount of time, resources, and human effort to properly synchronize each model’s output.

Making SUMMIT a pervasive part of emergency response

SUMMIT’s software 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 players in a master control cell, much like what occurred in Washington, D.C., during NLE-11.

The broader goal, says Jalal, is to make the SUMMIT capability a pervasive part of preparedness and response for emergency managers, responders, and exercise teams in the federal, state, and local government. Learn more about the project at