SimulationDeck helps US Virgin Islands close gaps in emergency SOPs

Challenge

The U.S. Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) participated in a four-day, full-scale exercise coordinated by U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in May of 2017. More than 1,000 military personnel and first responders participated in the Vigilant Guard Exercise that simulated the effects of an earthquake-generated tsunami causing significant damage to the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Approach

During the exercise, public information officers from nearly 20 different agencies on the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas implemented the new External Affairs SOP. Exercise scenario information and ground truth were presented to the JIC team via SimulationDeck’s simulated news broadcasts, newspapers, social media platforms, blogs, and other simulated internet sites.

Throughout the exercise, SimulationDeck’s SimCell used various synthetic social media
accounts to also simulate public concerns and media inquiries - prompting the PIOs to
work through JIC processes to share information and coordinate messages.

Having recently completed their External Affairs Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for a major event, this exercise was VITEMA’s first opportunity to activate and operate a  Joint Information Center (JIC). VITEMA leadership needed a way to realistically simulate the pressures, opportunities, and challenges of the information environment in order to validate the SOP and assess the effectiveness of coordinating emergency public information activities through the JIC.

Results

SimulationDeck helped expose gaps in VITEMA’s SOPs. Coming into the exercise, participants expected that emergency public information operations would be similar to their day-to-day functions, but by the end of the exercise, participants had a much better understanding of the magnified pressures and challenges of communicating during an emergency. The fast pace and intense volume of public and media inquiries delivered through SimulationDeck made the exercise environment feel like a real-world incident.

“The training was a real eye-opener for us with SimulationDeck. The public information officers didn’t expect it to be a stressful situation, and we were scrambling to verify information and respond to information that was being put out by the online newspaper, television news, and social media. The information was realistic, nothing felt simulated and we realized we needed to work much harder honing in our skills. This was the first time we set up a JIC and it was a lot harder and more complex than we anticipated. The local government has 30 public information officers, and many of them have been in the business a long time, but SimulationDeck showed us that being able to do public information in their daily lives is much different than managing public information in a disaster.”

Christine Lett,
VITEMA Public Information Officer

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