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NPS Provides Early Warning Training Tool to Gulf Coast Marines

Dr. Cameron MacKenzie, then an assistant professor in NPS’ Defense Resources Management Institute (DRMI), provides a brief on the NPS-developed MATLAB Hurricane Decision Simulator at Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans in June 2015. Created by developers in the university’s Center for Educational Design, Development and Distribution (CED3), the simulator was designed to assist key government officials with decision making prior to a hurricane making landfall in the Gulf Coast region.

The U.S. Marine Force Reserve (MARFORRES) is one of several agencies that need to take quick action when hurricane-force storms are barreling down on the Gulf Coast, and leadership turned to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) to help build the tools to keep them ready.

Robert McGuiness, information and knowledge management director for MARFORRES New Orleans, had the vision, and faculty in the university’s Defense Resources Management Institute (DRMI) had the expertise. The result of their collaboration, the MARFORRES Hurricane Decision Simulator, is helping reservists on the ground become better prepared in the event of an actual emergency.

“The simulator helps users gain experience with the key hurricane preparation decisions that must be made in the five days to 24 hours before hurricane impacts affect New Orleans,” said Dr. Eva Regnier, DRMI associate professor of decision science. “These decisions are high stakes and must be made under conditions of dynamic uncertainty.

“It is designed specifically to replicate the decisions of the Commander of MARFORRES, including preparation for and eventual transfer of command and control to an alternate headquarters to maintain mission readiness, and order of evacuation to protect the safety of personnel and their families,” continued Regnier.

McGuiness says the current version of the simulator is designed to provide leaders and staff at Marine Forces Reserve with a realistic experience of the types of decisions required, and the timing of those decisions, during real pre-storm situations.

“It is a training tool not intended for use during a hurricane,” said McGuiness. “If the leaders of the force know what to do in a timely manner, they can make the best decisions given the challenging circumstances when a named storm enters the gulf.”

Designers in NPS’ Center for Educational Design, Development and Distribution (CED3) performed much of the hands-on work in the development of the simulator.

“CED3 worked with NPS faculty member Eva Regnier and the staff at Marine Forces Reserve to integrate historic data into an interactive web-based hurricane simulator,” noted CED3 Instructional Designer Dianne Beardslee. “The simulator uses a custom algorithm to prompt emergency management personnel to make critical decisions as the simulated hurricane approaches land. At each decision point, the user learns if their decision resulted in the loss of equipment or human life.”

“This simulation uses a lot of authentic/historical storm data and required us to explore innovative design and programming solutions to deliver a product that integrates many interconnected features all within one screen,” added CED3 Media Developer Mike Northcutt. “We hope the final product is engaging and intuitive to use, and feel proud to have contributed on the project, as it serves a real-world need for training emergency planning and response personnel in the region.”

Indeed, the simulator has been very well received with leadership, in fact, Commander of Marine Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Rex McMillian conveyed his appreciation in a letter to the project’s developers at NPS.

“The partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School proved to be a force multiplier for Marine Forces Reserve and the synergistic results of that partnership provided a disproportionately large return on our investment of human capital,” the letter stated. “Your extensive functional area expertise and the generous contribution of your valuable time yielded phenomenal outcomes. I am absolutely confident that your efforts significantly enhance the Forces’ ability to start our first year Inspector/Instructors down a path of sustainable success.”

With the success of this initial project, MARFORRES leadership expect to see further development of similar products for other regions.

“The simulator, and future projects, can educate our leaders in a more effective way both in terms of the time they need to spend on the tool and in the effectiveness of the tool,” said McGuiness. “Our intention is to add modules to the tool to support our units located in other hurricane prone areas such as Galveston, Mobile and Miami.”

“We also provided an overview and demo of the tool to the Federal Executive Board this past May, and they were very impressed,” said McGuiness. “FEMA Region 6, the National Hurricane Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers in NOLA all have asked for follow on briefs and demos for their organizations.”