City of Ottawa simulates bio-terrorism attacks

In partnership with the Department of National Defence and the City of Ottawa, two high-tech firms are creating an intricate simulation of bio-terrorist incidents that will allow emergency response teams to better prepare for the unthinkable.

Executives from Greenley & Associates and AEgis

Simulation Technologies Inc. say their companies are working on a $2-million project that features digital 3-D renderings of Ottawa’s roads, buildings, houses, sewer systems, and more.

The virtual city will provide all of this detail based on the GIS (geographic imaging systems) mapping data from the City of Ottawa, says Mike Greenley, principal consultant of Greenley & Associates.

Once completed in the spring of 2005, the technology behind the “”virtual city”” project will allow members of Ottawa’s fire, police and EMS departments to practise their response drills in a realistic environment. Greenley says emergency response teams will be able to climb aboard a simulator, race down virtual city blocks toward a virtual disaster scene, and decide how best to deal with the dispersion of biological, chemical or radiological agents.

For example, the simulation technology will use military models of how a cloud of chlorine gas proliferates under certain climatic and wind conditions, says Greenley. Such simulation could automatically determine the best route to reach the scene, suggest plans of action, and provide municipal personnel with a valuable hands-on training experience. One simulator could replicate the flight-path of a police helicopter, while another could replicate the route of an ambulance driver. All users would be interconnected during the exercise, allowing them to talk to one another and see each other’s virtual vehicles, says John Nicol, general manager of AEgis.

Greenley says the project piqued DND’s interest because it promises to help the department simulate the many places they operate around the world, creating virtual battle scenarios and incidents involving hazardous materials.

While the two companies have so far remained at the talking stage with a municipal committee regarding the adoption and implementation of a virtual Ottawa, Greenley anticipates that talks will progress quickly in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the director of research and development at the federal Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness (OCIPEP) says the Greenley-AEgis project is “”certainly something we are going to look at.””

Chris Tucker says the world of simulation and modelling for hazards is only going to get more precise.

But he also cautions that precision remains one of the biggest hurdles.

“”Do you know, for example, how many cars cross an intersection, how much water flows through a pipe, or precisely what the parameters of a building are? What’s the resolution of its elevation? All of these things need to be accounted for if you want the model to be precise.””

Nonetheless, Tucker says as precision improves and as the cost of simulation decreases, there will be more and more uses for simulation. These uses include not just plume dispersions of gaseous clouds and how they react around buildings, but the cascading effect of such an event, namely traffic and crowd controls.

But one major challenge is the constant updating that any 3-D rendering of a city demands. In fact, updating is imperative to ensure the technology remains in tune with all of the construction and expansion of urban and suburban roads and buildings.

“”You can see every three years what a remarkable change there is in the city,”” says Steve Perkins, a senior photogrammetrist with the City of Ottawa. “”We’re trying to keep our topographic data set as up-to-date as possible, and this should feed (efforts) like the virtual city project.””

Roughly $800,000 of the $2-million that Greenley and AEgis have secured for the virtual city project came from DND, the City of Ottawa and corporate coffers. The remainder came from a $170-million federal fund from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Research and Technology Initiative.

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