Behind the (virtual) wheel

     Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVO) are one of those activities that can bring harm to individual officers and risk to the general public. It is what we refer to as a "High-Frequency/High-Risk" activity. It's also widely known that more officers are killed annually in vehicle accidents than by any other single cause.

     The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) issued a report on officers killed in the line of duty. The report reflects that from 2000 to 2004, 60 California peace officers were killed in the line of duty. Of those 60 deaths, 37 were determined accidental. This statistic shows that 67 percent of these officers were killed in preventable accidents.

     Of those 37 accidental deaths, 28 were in traffic-related accidents, meaning that 76 percent of those accidental deaths, and nearly 50 percent of all line-of-duty deaths, occurred as a result of traffic-related accidents.

     While emergency vehicle operation training may be a high-priority skill, it can be expensive and time consuming. Vehicle maintenance, replacement tires and brakes, a compatible training facility and qualified instructors can quickly drain an agency of material and personnel. In this time of shrinking budgets and low staffing levels, law enforcement agency leaders must find innovative ways to ensure their personnel are properly trained.

     Applied Simulation Technologies (AST) in Murray, Utah, has an innovative training tool to help address some of these issues. The EVOC-101 Web training system is a Web-based training (WBT) course in emergency vehicle operation for law enforcement and fire department personnel as well as any other emergency vehicle drivers. The course is taken online by individual officers and allows them to train themselves as spare time during a regular shift allows. As a result, less time is spent rearranging shift schedules and less money is spent paying overtime for personnel to attend formal training courses.

     EVOC-101 Web is not intended to replace simulator training or actual driving exercises. Instead, it should be used as the first stage of a blended-learning curriculum. Blended learning is a technique of instruction whereby students are taught over time using various instructional techniques. Blended learning is widely recognized as the most effective way to teach adults, as students are given information in a manner that addresses auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners. This, combined with exposure to the material over an extended time period, ensures that the knowledge is better retained by students.

     The course is designed to compliment current emergency vehicle operation (EVO) training by providing introductory exposure to EVO principles, refresher training of perishable driving skills and remediation scoring reviews. It can also be effectively implemented as a precursor to driving simulation, and can track performance-based training.

     This course presents the material in a classroom-type setting. The curriculum covers driving techniques, safety and tactical concepts, rules, and procedural knowledge needed for operators of emergency vehicles. The intent is to give emergency responders the skills they need to drive safely and effectively in emergency response situations.

     Topics include vital skills such as proper vehicle position approaching; entering and exiting intersections; proper use of emergency lights and siren; when and how to use oncoming lanes; and silent or covert response. All of these are covered in a graphic-rich, interactive format. The multi-media courseware prepares users for hands-on practice in a simulator or in a vehicle on the range. EVOC-101 Web can not only be used to train new personnel, but also to provide experienced emergency response drivers with a quick review of policy issues and perishable skills.

     Courses are designed to stand alone with minimal instructor participation. Students can keep track of their own progress through the course. Each course is divided into short lessons, and each lesson takes approximately 15-20 minutes, based a student's individual learning pace. Courses are accessed from a central server via the Internet.

     The course also includes a Learning Management System (LMS) to track and document progress. Training managers or supervisors have special access to the LMS and will be able to see reports organized by trainee name, and containing detailed information on each student's progress through the course. It shows when the student started and completed each portion of the course, as well as his or her scores.

AST

     Applied Simulation Technologies, which makes this course, has a level of expertise in the field far above most of its competitors. Founded in March 2003, AST is a virtual training technology company specializing in simulation-based training and related software. The company's approach involves full scale, interactive experiences in a simulated environment. AST develops and sells training software, applications packages and services to variety of clients including the commercial vehicle, law enforcement, homeland security, corporate and academic communities. Its emergency vehicle training program, EVOC-101, has been adopted by Utah as the standard for training its police officers.

     The company's expertise includes adapting technology for synthetic training; driving simulator training and research and development applications; systems integration; training environment scenario development; scenario traffic control; vehicle dynamics; tire and road modeling; and real-time implementation and student acceptance of synthetic driving environments.

     Although AST is a fairly new company, its personnel have been active in driving simulators since the mid-1980s. Founders and designers of the company have been researching and designing advanced simulator technology solutions for all types of high- to medium-performance vehicle simulators. This began by providing integration support on the Daimler-Benz driving simulator in Berlin, Germany. Additionally, they worked closely with Carnegie-Melon University, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, GM and Ford to identify hardware and software solutions for each of these companies' simulation application needs.

     AST personnel have successfully provided simulator training support to more than 200 law enforcement agencies and commercial training schools. Services included needs analysis, specifications, simulator sickness mitigation, transfer of training techniques, scenario development, driver measurement, behavior correction and financial analysis of simulator benefits.

     The course content for EVOC-101 Web is taken from the simulator version of AST's EVOC-101 course, which has three years of data with statistical analysis documenting transfer of training and driver behavior modification. That course was designed with extensive input and collaboration from EVO subject matter experts and instructional system designers. Additionally, an extensive review of state traffic laws, state and federal department policies, various EVO policies and case law ensure that the course content is correct and up to date. The courses offered by AST are compliant with standards and accreditation criteria promoted by FLETA, IADLEST, ALERT and several states' P.O.S.T criteria.

     AST's extensive work with EVO experts has helped it identify the skills and knowledge necessary for effective EVO driving. Through these contacts, they hope to understand the problem-solving thought process as drivers work their way through a hazard-filled intersection in an emergency response.

     All of this research is used to develop scenarios that closely duplicate actual driving conditions officers face on a daily basis. These scenarios and others are recorded and played back on the WBT as videos that the learners can use as models of expert driving.

Agency cost

     There is an initial one-time $299 fee, which covers the setup of the agency's learning management system (LMS) and data management. Through LMS the agency is able to track individual progress and set passing performance standards.

     In addition to the setup fee, the cost for the course is $49 per student, which covers 12 months of access to the training course. Access is unlimited, so the course may be taken numerous times during the year as appropriate. The course must be completed in its entirety before it may be taken again.

Testing the course

     In preparing this product review, AST arranged for two test subjects to take a course. In order to form a fair evaluation, the two test subjects had differing levels of experience.

     I served as one of the subjects. I am a 46-year-old male, and have been a deputy sheriff for 20 years. I have limited computer expertise and do not play video games. I also have a strong background in training and adult learning concepts.

     The other test subject was a 24-year-old female officer with a year-and-a-half on the job. She has extensive computer experience, including formal training on use of computers and various programs. She has also taken numerous Web-based training courses in the past.

     The course we tested was titled "Intersection Analysis." The objective of this course was to educate the student on how to properly negotiate intersections during an emergency response. Below are the topics covered:

  • Intersection Approach
  • Intersection Assessment
  • Clearing the Intersection: Basics
  • Clearing the Intersection: Advanced Skills
  • Intersection Departure & Course Summary

     We both found the course easy to use. Once users sign on, the course is laid out so needed information is easily accessed It also loaded quickly onto my computer so there was no wasted time. Each screen has easy-to-follow instructions. The female test subject said it was the most complete, well-laid-out and easy-to-use Web course she has ever taken.

     The graphics are detailed and realistic. Each portion of the course starts with an overview stating what students will learn and what they should know when completed. During the course, periodic quizzes test information retention. Students must successfully pass the quiz before they can move to the next section of the course.

     Throughout the course there is a drop-down menu on the left side of the screen with several functions. It shows each topic in the current section so the student can track his or her progress. It also has buttons that can be used by the agency to add additional material for the student. One button, marked "Policy," is available for agencies to post their local policy regarding emergency vehicle operations, making it available to users at the click of a button.

     There is also an extras feature under which the agency can post additional information such as current news articles, short video clips, surveys or humor that relate to the lesson. These features allow agencies to get the most out of this type of training platform.

     Most importantly, the information is valid and relevant. Overall, this course is well designed and valuable. It provides good training at minimal cost in a manner that makes good use of resources.

     John Marrs has been a deputy with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department in California since 1988. He can be reached at m20_marrsj@yahoo.com

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