In a post-Sept. 11, post-Hurricane Katrina world, being prepared for disasters both natural and manmade has gained new urgency. Now, a new company using technology developed by Florida State University researchers will make it easier for relevant government agencies, corporations and other organizations to prepare for such disasters and to react to them more quickly and efficiently.
The Tallahassee-based company, TEAM Simulations LLC, has been given an exclusive commercialization license by the FSU Research Foundation to expand marketing of a first-of-its-kind, computer-based disaster exercise system known as TEST, which is short for “Tabletop Exercise System Technology.” TEST, created and refined by researchers at FSU’s Center for Disaster Risk Policy (www.cdrp.net), was designed to simplify the development, delivery and reporting processes that often make disaster-planning exercises unwieldy.
“One way to prepare for disasters is through training, and one of the best ways to train the members of a large organization is by participation in discussion-based or ‘tabletop’ exercises,” said Janet D. Dilling, president of TEAM Simulations (www.teamsimulations.com).
The product has had considerable success through word of mouth. Approximately 5,000 federal, state and local government officials from some 900 agencies already have used it to prepare for such potential disasters as avian flu outbreaks, bioterrorism attacks, hurricanes and food-borne illnesses—and that barely scratches the surface of the potential market for the product, Dilling says.
“TEST really revolutionizes the way tabletop exercises are done and has the potential to become the industry standard for disaster and training exercises,” she said. “Over time, it has become clear that the best way to make that happen is to move forward with commercialization so that the product can be actively marketed.”
John Fraser, executive director of FSU’s Office of Intellectual Property Development & Commercialization, said that “Janet is the latest in a long list of FSU faculty interested in seeing their creative work commercialized to make it more widely available to bring real benefits of research to people. Janet’s company is the beginning of a further expansion of creating new companies formed around FSU research. What we have in the pipeline will, over the next few years, add to the expanding high-technology base of the Tallahassee economy.”
While traditional tabletop exercises can be an effective means of simulating disasters or other situations, Dilling pointed out that “they can also be limited by their one-size-fits-all approach, the skill of the facilitator, and inefficient capturing of information for later use.” The TEST platform was specifically designed to avoid some of these shortcomings. Dilling described some of TEST’s strengths:
- It can be customized to apply to a wide range of situations and clients.
- It guides users through a disaster scenario that includes simulated news reports, e-mails, video and other appropriate data, then asks leading questions based on the information provided and allows participants to respond.
- Participants’ responses are recorded in a database and consolidated into an industry standard report that is immediately available to everyone.
- Very large disaster-planning exercises involving hundreds of people in numerous remote locations can be accommodated just as easily as small groups gathered in a single conference room.
- The design of TEST allows individuals in a group to use a single computer, enabling them to brainstorm and input their answers without the need for a group facilitator.
- It is extremely easy for administrators to design their own tabletop exercise using TEST. With only a basic understanding of computers, they can quickly design an exercise that is interactive and engaging.
- TEST also has the capability to be used for non-disaster-related exercises such as human resources training and business management simulations, Dilling said.