Changing the Game

Changing the Game

By Valerie Amato Jul 17, 2017

The future of emergency response training is rapidly evolving, and the newest addition to training programs is a game-changer—literally.

Thanks to the innovative and creative efforts of team members at the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T), first responders can now train for mass-casualty incidents in a virtual-reality training platform in real time with other first responders.

On June 28 the DHS S&T team hosted a live-stream demonstration to introduce their brand-new virtual training program: EDGE (Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment). Members of the S&T First Responders Group include Milt Nenneman, EDGE program manager; Tami Griffith, EDGE lead; and Bob Walker, EDGE program manager, who partnered with Cole Engineering Services, Inc. and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Simulation and Training Technology Center to create the virtual environment.

The goal of EDGE is not to train first responders to perform their respective job duties, but to sharpen their decision-making skills when they do their jobs during a critical incident.

EDGE is an online multiplayer game that allows up to 40 users to join a live training session. Users can create their character’s appearance and then choose from multiple roles to practice in: civilian, dispatcher, EMS, fire company, firefighter, military, law enforcement, suspect and unified command. Users also have the option to “fly” throughout the location as well as switch to the perspectives of other users to better assess the circumstances of the event.

First responders can play in “scalable” mode, which helps one agency train for a single event or work with multiple agencies to train for coordinated attacks, or “efficient” mode, which allows responders to train repeatedly with a large group of other responders either in teams or as individuals.

Users can communicate with each other via headset or through a chat message feature. The dispatcher can dispatch agencies and even connect different channels to allow agencies to communicate with one another. The communications are realistically detailed; for example, civilians can call 9-1-1, or a first responder passing the scene can call in the emergency via radio. In addition, “area chat” allows any users within proximity to hear another user speaking to facilitate the efficiency of rapid communication.

At the start of each scenario, users are placed in a location near the scene of the incident where unified command is staged to give orders and acquire information from radio communications. A whiteboard for drawing is available in this location for all participants to map out plans they want to execute.

The first scenario, provided free for all first responders, involves active shooters in a 26-story hotel. The surrounding city blocks and the interior of the hotel are extremely detailed. Every room is accessible, including guest rooms, storage rooms, hallways and lobbies, making the situation more realistic for users as they employ their tactics.

The intelligent design of EDGE enhances its realistic environment. Users drive the action rather than solely responding to simulations built into the platform. For example, a fire started by an active shooter won’t spread as quickly over tiles as it will over wood, and surfaces that have been dampened or burned can’t be reignited.

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The ability to repeatedly train in the EDGE exercises allows users to reinforce improved operational protocols. Users can assess the quality of their response skills and multiagency collaboration upon completion of the training by watching an “after-action review,” a video recording of the exercise, to improve their tactics for next time.

In preparation for dealing with complex coordinated attacks, it’s imperative that first responders strengthen their collaborative efforts with other disciplines and jurisdictions. This helps to reduce the number of civilian and first responder injuries and casualties. Learning how to establish an efficient unified command is crucial in effecting a smooth, coordinated effort between agencies to appropriately handle mass-casualty incidents.

First responders can access EDGE for free online here.

For more information, visit the DHS webpage about EDGE.

Valerie Amato is an assistant editor for EMS World. Contact her at

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