Applied Training Solutions
The realities of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. With once-in-a-decade weather phenomena now happening almost yearly, how can we stay prepared for the next disaster? How can we train for the untrainable?
Applied Training Solutions (ATS) — composed of a team of military veterans, teachers, and engineers — creates disaster simulation and training software that helps government agencies plan, build, and train for disasters before they happen.
ATS came to Blink for help to unify three niche products built for custom training by and for the government. The goal was to create a single, flexible, state-of-the-art disaster simulation and training tool that could be used not only by larger government authorities but also by smaller municipal groups, schools and universities, and private businesses like banks and utilities.
Trainers can’t create an actual hurricane or snowstorm. It’s also impractical, expensive, and difficult to mobilize the thousands of emergency response workers needed to facilitate a large-scale exercise. Participants, facilitators, and role players need a space where these scenarios can be simulated as realistically as possible and coordinated across different teams and agencies. Effective disaster preparedness is no small challenge.
Like all Blink projects, we started with understanding our users. We interviewed former and current members of the armed forces, engineers, and consultants to understand their current tools and pain points from their experiences. We also explored the ATS brand to create a look and feel that was modern, functional, unique, and accessible on low-resolution screens for out in the field.
Ultimately, we focused on four key users and created ATS SIM — a flexible application that adapts to each of their needs, scales to any size organization or exercise, and to any type of potential disaster. With ATS SIM, planners can get started months ahead of an exercise, gather data, and prepare the live exercise and simulations; facilitators can run exercises that span from hours to weeks; and participants can use the live ATS simulations and tools to train like it’s a real disaster. Lastly, observers can quickly and accurately assess and document actions and performance in real time to help each of the agencies, municipalities and emergency services improve their responses, so that when the next disaster strikes, they’ll be prepared, potentially saving lives.
We extended our work to take our designs into code and helped the ATS development team get set up for an agile build. Using Storybook, we codified our design system, which enabled us to create and prototype responsive front-end designs. The ATS team was then able to plug in its back-end functionalities, resulting in a fully functional and ready-to-use tool.
ATSsim went live in Oct 2021. Since then, ATSsim has been used in the support of 8 exercises, with many more scheduled.
Blink spent weeks learning about the process that facilitators currently go through and the tools they use. We identified numerous opportunities and constantly evaluated them with experts to ensure what we were designing not only met their expectations but also improved how they did their jobs.
Often a year ahead of the actual exercise date, planners come together to discuss the topic and goals of their training simulation. We created a planning section specifically for those members to define expectations, requirements, and ultimate training goals. The output is a clear, combined understanding of what the next weeks or months will look like.
“This will make a…manager’s job so much easier. He can look and see what’s coming up.”
While the planning phase informs the purpose, the building phase is integral to creating a functional simulation. Scriptwriters detail the series of events that will occur during the simulation, including weather events, communications from simulated authorities, and even the movement and placement of boots on the ground. All of this is in service of creating what feels like a real disaster, with real units and vehicles for the in-person participants who are being trained.
“If we make them feel like they have actual units down there, we’ve done our job.”
When the exercise date arrives, dozens of experts have helped over many months to create the simulation and on-site exercise space. Facilitators use the live simulation and script to help with timing and ensure things run smoothly — or throw in the odd curveball. Observers, with a special mobile, on-site version of the SIM, verify the participants are meeting the requirements, as defined months ago in the planning stage.
These months of work all culminate in an after-action-report — a document prepared within the SIM that addresses what worked well and what didn’t. Ultimately, the purpose is to improve life-saving actions, and if mistakes were made, it’s better they happen in simulation so when the real disaster strikes, all are prepared.
ATS SIM uses flexible, cascading permissions to create experiences that are tailored to the various types of users — many of whom take on multiple roles — to serve up the right content to each user without distraction. This allows for unique views, specific to each role, which dynamically change and adapt for each type of exercise.
To ensure all the hard work of planning each unique exercise — and each unique disaster — isn’t lost, we helped create an open scenario library, where simulations can be reused, referenced, and saved. This resource will make a future builder’s work more efficient, allowing those getting trained to prepare more quickly.