Support: May 13, 2003


: Building the First Civilian Wargame, Lessons Learned: Mr. Dunnigan in his article; Why Professional Wargames and Commercial Wargames are so Different, touched on a number of challenges he has experienced in his long career designing wargames. Having just completed the first adaptation of wargaming concepts to the civilian emergency response sector, I thought a comparison of my experience to Mr. Dunnigans might be helpful. 

The project was called the Automated Exercise and Assessment System (AEAS). The goal was to build a training and assessment wargame to simulate a Weapons of Mass Destruction incident. Aimed at the command and control aspects of an incident, the objective was to create an experience for the all of the various responders to the incident. The project was recently completed and the software was delivered to the customer for distribution. 

Development Process

Since this was a first of a kind project, there was not a set of detailed requirements. The charge was to develop a simulation that local communities from major metropolitan areas to small rural towns could use to train for weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the community was to be able to use their own resources in the simulation. Given the vast differences in resources between the communities through out the country, this was going to be one of our major challenges. 

To meet this requirement, the simulation had to be capable of being customized to each community. For example, a fire engine in one community might carry 500 gallons of water, while in another community it might not have an onboard water supply. Before the simulation begins, the jurisdiction builds its community response capabilities into the system through a survey. Each jurisdiction enters the various types of fire, police, and emergency medical services units, and then assigns them the capabilities each possesses. With each of the capabilities assigned to a unit, comes its resources, needs and the commands that can be given to that unit. For example, a fire engine that is Advanced Life Support capable, can be assigned to provide paramedic level care to patients. It also will need to be re-supplied, as it treats patients, with IV fluids and specific types of drugs. This same unit could be assigned to fight fire, or provide search and rescue at an incident. So once a unit had been constructed, it was able to respond and perform in a reasonable recreation of its real world capabilities. 

There was no national standard on how to respond to the various types of Weapons of Mass Destruction incidents. The only way to begin was to take known response practices, and find ways to adapt them to WMD events. To a large extent the day to day responses by first responders, are not too different from the problems they will face in a WMD event. Bio-terrorism precautions are the same precautions emergency crews take today for AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis or hazardous materials incidents. Building collapses occur in earthquakes and are a well understood problem set. The World Trade Center did not present unknown problems, but instead presented orders of magnitude larger ones. So the problems, behaviors, outcomes and time frames from these other incidents could be used to simulate the behaviors of the emergency responders on the ground. This solved a very difficult problem in the beginning and gave us a very good foundation to build on. 

Satisfy a lot of users: During the development process we had monthly meeting with a Review Board and Stakeholders, drawn from a myriad of different national organizations, representing all of the various emergency response agencies. Representatives from Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs Association, Firefighters, Fire Chiefs, Coast Guard, National Guard, NFPA, hospitals, and Emergency Medical Services to name a few of those represented at the meetings. The real challenge was to define the roles each played in a response and the command structure. The discussions were not about the performance of various types of trucks or vehicles, but rather centered on capabilities, and roles and responsibilities. The capabilities discussions centered on, agencies and the types of services each provided. For example, in some areas of the country law enforcement agencies provide emergency medial services. In most of the other parts of the country they do not. Those agencies, which did provide these services, wanted their vehicles to reflect those specific capabilities. We solved this by allowing the jurisdiction to assign any capability, to any vehicle when they were building their response resources. We were able to solve the roles and responsibility issue by allowing the jurisdiction to choose from 42 different functional areas. They could choose fire, law enforcement or hazardous materials, and then assign a role or roles to the agency in their community that performed those functions. The lack of a national standard, while a challenge, allowed us to build flexibility into the software that would not have been possible had we been under stricter guidelines. 

Data classified and incorrect information- As I mentioned earlier the lessons learned for other non-terrorism related large-scale incidents, and those of September 11th proved a rich source of information. Published reports proved invaluable in creating meaningful problems sets for a number of the scenarios. Very few little empirical data exists on civilian emergency response. Given the one year time frame of the project, these reports were the only viable answer. One of my hopes is that as time goes on, we will be able to revisit the data and continue to refine it to develop second generation civilian wargame. 

User interface- In contrast to the military design experience, there were no constraints on interface design. Given the fact that the client wanted to distribute this software nation wide to a variety of communities with varying level of expertise, the interface was going to have to be intuitive. Using civilian wargames as examples, we constructed an interface that was much more a reflection of the civilian wargame than its military counterpart. 

Validation- We felt we could not in all good conscience, produce a simulation that was an absolute predictor of outcomes, given the lack of empirical data and the fact that most of the incidents had never occurred. What we could do was produce a wargame that would expose the participants to problems sets, decisions and resource needs associated with a WMD event. If we could provide a vehicle for the participants to experience decision making and local resource allocation during a WMD, then they would be much more prepared than they are today. The chief issue facing the civilian emergency response community is not simply a lack of equipment. Instead it is understanding the issues and problems associated with a WMD event and how their existing resources can be applied. A wargame is an ideal vehicle to accomplish this type of training. 

Methodology- Lacking a wealth of operational research to work from to develop this simulation. We started with subject matter experts in Bioterrorism; nuclear and radiological incidents, and hazardous materials to develop a basic outline and general timeline for each incident. We took these incidents and developed a series of situational events within each incident. From these situational events, we fleshed out the incident with problems, time frames, radio traffic, and consequences for good and bad decisions. We used Oklahoma City, The World trade Center and the Pentagon for the problems, time frames and resources needed for similar scenarios in the simulation. We used the 1918 Flu pandemic, and the smallpox outbreak in Germany in the 70s for problem sets in the bio scenarios. We used hazardous materials incidents for details of the deliberate hazardous materials releases. We used studies done by the federal government on the effects of a nuclear blast. The combination of lessons learned and analysis produced scenarios that were acceptable representations of WMD incidents.

The behaviors of the crews in the simulation are reasonably simple when compared to a military simulated object. Once the crew is assigned a task, it will continue to perform that task, until they run out of supplies or physical exhaustion causes them to stop. The enemy does not have tactics and a strategy, so the simulated crew objects do not need to be intelligent enough to respond to a enemy. Rather they need to respond to the problem they are assigned and try to solve it with the resources at hand. If they do not have these resources then they request them until the problems worsens or resources arrive. The real challenges in a WMD event for a commander and decision makers is the allocation of resources in a resource poor environment. 

The development of AEAS was what Tom Peters, a management guru, called a Ready, Fire, Aim product. Because we had no previous system to build from, we had to build something to begin the discussion of what was needed. Without a foundation of previously developed systems, combined with a lack understanding by the civilian response of wargames and wargaming, a simulation had to be built to begin the discussion of what type of wargame was really needed. Now that AEAS exists, it will hopefully create an environment for analysis and discussion of operational responses to Weapons of Mass Destruction, so refinements and a second generation of civilian wargames can be developed. -- Roger C. Huder CEM (


Article Archive

Support: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close