Sandia National Laboratories is a facility dedicated to the support of national security, especially in five key areas: nuclear weapons, energy, nonproliferation, defense systems, and homeland security. On this last area, Donna Djordjevich leads a team in the development of GroundTruth
, a homeland security training platform.
At Sandia, Djordjevich specializes in modeling disaster scenarios and she pushed forward a research and development effort in creating a platform for preparing decision makers, especially first responders, in dealing with catastrophic events. Utilizing their own expertise, they partnered with the University of Southern California's GamePipe Labs to create GroundTruth
, which is now one year into a three year R&D commitment.
A City Catastrophe
The first scenario features a tanker truck releasing chlorine in the middle of a city. The player takes on the role of an abstracted incident commander and is charged with keeping the loss of life to a minimum. While the game looks similar to a real time strategy game, most typical RTS games do not have the player choosing between evacuating, hospitalizing, or sheltering affected persons.
Djordjevich noted that the scenario was not made to be played in a perfect manner, but to play through multiple times so that players can experience a variety of different conditions, such as a different starting position for the crash or different weather conditions influencing the spread of the chlorine leak.
Overall, the GroundTruth
continues to be a successful project, though some interesting kinks arose during its development. While students are "highly motivated and ridiculously cheap," the end of semester means inevitable changes to the development team. "Students are best used for well-defined, throwaway prototypes," Djordjevich said.
Students also do well "implementing by example" in their software development, but that necessitates preexisting examples. Also, the contracting process can take far longer than expected. For GroundTruth
, The GamePipe team started and completed their part of the contract before the contract was actually finalized, essentially working for free, thanks in part to trust and solid reputations for the parties involved.
In future iterations, Djordjevich hopes to see a new scenario, Active Shooter, which will be a relatively fast scenario featuring model-based non player character action and multiple players collaborating in the mission.