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US Secret Service Virtualizes Tiny Town 72

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the vectors-of-voxels dept.
An anonymous reader writes "For the past 40 years, a miniature model environment called 'Tiny Town' has been one of the methods used to teach Secret Service agents and officers how to prepare a site security plan. The model includes different sites — an airport, outdoor stadium, urban rally site and a hotel interior — and uses scaled models of buildings, cars and security assets. With help from the Department of Homeland Security's Science & Technology Directorate, the Secret Service is giving training scenarios a high-tech edge: moving from static tabletop models to virtual kiosks with gaming technology and 3D modeling."
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US Secret Service Virtualizes Tiny Town

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  • by NevarMore (248971) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @02:55PM (#35213154) Homepage Journal

    The old system wasn't broken why update it? Are their systems in the field digital or is it maps and tabletops and pencils?

    It also seems that this would change the learning styles for the agents. Having physical tabletop models is going to engage your eyes and your senses differently than the computer will. You're going to interact with your peers differently too. If it matches whats in the field it is better/

    • The old system wasn't broken why update it?

      GET OUT

      • You say that but this is slashdot. Search for "Office Ribbon" or "Awesomebar" to see the sheer force of "The old system wasn't broken why update it?" or more accurately "I refuse to learn anything new" around here

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      Not to mention in the old system the agents could take the little dolls and act out scenes from their favorite chick movies.

    • by Bios_Hakr (68586)

      Tabletop exercises are great for leadership. Get them all in a room, drop in an event, and see how they respond. Who they call and how fast they can accomplish the action gets figured into the exercise being a success or failure.

      But where it gets hard is for the guys that will actually do the action items. Data center is flooded; how long to bring the warm site online? It's great that the NOC manager knows that activating a warm site should take X hours, but what will the actual NOC techs be doing?

      By mo

      • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @04:10PM (#35214028) Homepage

        Because it's not real. YOu dont enter a situation with a 50,000 foot view and the hand of god.

        Honestly, when they point at the other side of the town and say, "the terrorists are over here copying DVD's" any fool can plot a plan of action with a 50,000 foot view of the whole town.

        Having NO view of the town other than what you can pull up on your resources that are offline and plan from a non-live 2D view of a reasource is far more difficult and matches reality far better.

        Put them in a situation where it is far more realistic than standing over a war model.

      • I don't know. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that games in which there is a leader who gives details about a setting and situation and asks the players how they would react have been determined to lead to the development of gangs. [foxnews.com] I don't know about you, but I do not want our Secret Service members organizing or joining gangs. Perhaps they should scrap this whole system.

    • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @03:09PM (#35213382)
      The old system was much more sophisticated that tabletop models. Here's a video of a pre-CGI simulation of a terrorist attack:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNV7hKVu-Xg [youtube.com]

      .
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @03:10PM (#35213404) Homepage

      The old system wasn't broken why update it?

      Ummm ... to improve on it?

      The Secret Serviceâ(TM)s James J. Rowley Training Center near Washington, D.C., sought to take these scenarios beyond a static environment to encompass the dynamic threat spectrum that exists today, while taking full advantage of the latest computer software technology.

      So, do more and do it better.

      It also seems that this would change the learning styles for the agents.

      Yeah, from TFA ...

      Both third- and first-person viewing perspectives for overhead site evaluation and for a virtual âoewalk-throughâ of the site, reflecting how it would be performed in the field.

      You can't do a walk-through in a table-top model. This is more like the real thing. Seriously, The Fine Article actually explains this stuff. They get a lot of new capability they don't have now.

      They wouldn't have sought this out if they didn't think it would be to their benefit. Hell, I suspect if they built this right, they could input real locations and do some of their preliminary work on the computer, so they start out with more information.

      • by arth1 (260657)

        You can't do a walk-through in a table-top model. This is more like the real thing. Seriously, The Fine Article actually explains this stuff. They get a lot of new capability they don't have now.

        They also lose one benefit - instant transportation. You have to at a minimum pan out, slew, zoom in, and quite often also reorient, in a much more confusing and slower operation than just leaning over to look at a different part.

        Obligatory quote: "Gentlemen. You canâ(TM)t fight in here. This is the War Room!"

        • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

          As someone else pointed out, in a real scenario you don't have the luxury of having perfect information of everything that's going on from the entire scenario. Much of the time the person making command decisions is going to have to gather their information from actual people on the ground, e.g. via radios. This would be much more realistic in forcing people to communicate and efficiently relay information up/down the chain of command.

          And if they wanted to, I'm sure they could pause the simulation's timelin

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            You also don't start out in the real world. That is why they call it 'training'. I presume this new system will be benificial, and I can already think of areas where this could be improved that the old system is incompatible with, but the old system with it's 'full information' viewing has some real benefits in helping people see how the different parts fit together.

            This is much like using a map. In the real world, you don't get to see the whole city at once, but a map that only shows first person vie
    • by ojak (1857004)
      Why spend $50 on a model when you can spend $50 million on a model?
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Why spend $50 on a model when you can spend $50 million on a model?

        Well, if you bump up the cost of the first by an order of magnitude or two (we're not talking about a lego set here), and drop the price of the latter by an order of magnitude (let's face it, 3D virtualization has come down in price) ...

        If it makes for a more effective training tool, and allows them to run better scenarios, then it actually seems like a good investment. This is kinda what they do in terms of job function.

        • by ojak (1857004)

          Well, if you bump up the cost of the first by an order of magnitude or two... and drop the price of the latter by an order of magnitude

          Yeah, but "$50" to "$50 million" reads better...

      • by vlm (69642)

        Why spend $50 on a model when you can spend $50 million on a model?

        No one wants to see the pr0n made with the $50 model ...

      • Because you just saved $49,999,950 towards paying the war deficit.

    • The agents now being trained are tech age, so they get trained with what they know. If years down the road we suddenly had to readopt mech age techniques and strategies, I wonder how well we would cope with it.
    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Because this will let them easily go from a bird's eye view to a street level view instantly and even let them run various scenarios based on the student's plan?

      Imagine you have a flat computer table like that MSFT Surface demo shown awhile back with the tiny town running on it. The students cook up their route and the security measures required and when finished their plan can be ran at a street level view complete with simulated bad guys to show where the gaps are if any in their security plan, kind of li

    • Because this brings limitless possibilities! For example, in a simulation of a nuke explosion, you could save yourself by hiding in an old fridge! That's the kind of thinking you can only come up with when you have sufficiently sophisticated computer graphics at your disposal.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What are they going to be doing with their old table top models? Because I would like them for a pretty sweet Warhammer campaign.

  • One of the scenarios have a title that alludes to that classic movie, _The Terror of Tiny Town_.

  • Does it have a vice-mayor [qwantz.com]?

  • ...because apparently if you did, you could have messed up all of the planning the secret service does -

    1) Swing into the room where the model is
    2) Move one or more of the GI Joes to bathrooms
    3) Watch the ensuing panic

    I wonder if the new version is like the Sims - if you put all the GI Joes in one room, will they eventually get married? *poooonder*
  • by not5150 (732114) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @03:24PM (#35213542)

    Secret Service Agent 1 - President Obama will be walking down Ave B surrounded by six agents in standard formation.
    Secret Service Agent trainee - Rolls six-sided die. My Terminators will teleport on top of your Suburban and my Imperial Guard will move south on Ave A.
    Secret Service Agent 2 - That's impossible.. stick to the rules.
    Secret Service Agent 1 - Exactly, we're dealing with reality here. Everyone knows Terminators can't teleport on top of vehicles and your Imperial Guard won't have line of sight to the President.
    Secret Service Agent trainee - Takes out a yard stick, lines it up with the President and his figures... I do have line of sight, cry more noob.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      True dat.

      Ain't no wall-hacking in a physical model.

    • by WWWWolf (2428)

      Well, since this system is based on VBS2, I hope they'll just import some Operation Flashpoint mods. [youtube.com] You know, for realism. Video game technology is developed in discrete versions and milestones, but new terrorist weaponry/techniques and urban hazards just keep appearing all the time. It's up to the modders to continuously keep the simulations abreast with the new strange things in real world.

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @03:42PM (#35213708)
    they could have just used Google maps and given the agents real towns they might encounter.
  • [In a Tiny Town 3D Kiosk, confronted with numerous menacing-looking targets, Edwards shoots a cardboard little girl]
    Zed: May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?
    James Edwards: Well, she was the only one that actually seemed dangerous at the time, sir.
    Zed: How'd you come to that conclusion?
    James Edwards: Well, first I was gonna pop this guy hanging from the street light, and I realized, y'know, he's just working out. I mean, how would I feel if somebody come runnin' in the gym and bust me in my ass while I'm on the treadmill? Then I saw this snarling beast guy, and I noticed he had a tissue in his hand, and I'm realizing, y'know, he's not snarling, he's sneezing. Y'know, ain't no real threat there. Then I saw little Tiffany. I'm thinking, y'know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit, Zed. She's about eight years old, those books are WAY too advanced for her. If you ask me, I'd say she's up to something. And to be honest, I'd appreciate it if you eased up off my back about it.
    [pause]
    James Edwards: Or do I owe her an apology?
    [pause]
    James Edwards: That's a good shot though...

    • I was going to go with a Beverly Hills Cop reference (for the whole "tiny town" thing) but this works too...

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @03:47PM (#35213790) Homepage

    The US military has had practice towns for years. They use the term "MOUT" (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) sites. There's even a VRML file [sri.com] for the one at Fort Benning. There's a bigger one at Fort Irwin, and most major infantry bases have at least a modest mockup town.

    The FBI has an elaborate one at Quantico, VA. The Secret Service, though, doesn't seem to have one at their training center. They do, though, have a really big skid pad, for driving practice.

    It's not clear from the article whether "Tiny Town" is a planning aid or a training aid. That is, do they match real-world areas where they plan to operate, or just use it for training exercises?

    • by NevarMore (248971)

      Couldn't we just have the president just tell the FBI and Fort Benning to let the Secret Service use their training areas?

    • by blair1q (305137)

      The physical one would be purely for academic training. Far too hard to reconfigure to match many real-world scenarios.

      The virtual one could be infinitely variable. And with physics processors you could get wind patterns involved. They should open this up to modders on the web.

    • Killhouses and MOUT towns and the like are probably more useful for live fire or MILES practice. For planning they're not so great because it takes longer to physically reconfigure them and change the layouts.

      I'm sure the Secret Service has their own killhouses, if not they'll surely be using the FBI's.

  • Gotta secure the pres in a town that's right for me
    Town to keep me movin' keep me shootin' with some energy.

    Well, I talk about it
    Talk about it (x3)
    Talk about, Talk about
    Talk about movin'

    Gotta move on (x3)
    Won't you take me to
    Tiny Town. (x4)

  • get the hell out of my Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 games!
  • They log into a computer to go to a virtual kiosk? Is it a metakiosk?
  • I am sure that in the virtual airport the agents can give virtual pat downs and strip searches. I wonder who cleans up the kiosks???
  • I always thought a good training model for exercises would be FPS games like Call of Duty.

    Obviously not the actual missions, but you have two sides. The good guys and the bad guys. Both sides are controlled by real people. The enemies controlled by instructors and the good guys controlled by recruits, etc.

    Now, you have a leadership role commanding the good guys, telling the team what to do. Of course there would be dozens of spectators assessing the situation. You could have simulated phone calls with so ca

    • by nickb64 (1885128)
      Use ARMA? that seems like it could just about fit your idea from what I understand (I don't own the game personally)
      • by WWWWolf (2428)

        Use ARMA? that seems like it could just about fit your idea from what I understand (I don't own the game personally)

        According to the article, this system uses VBS2 [wikipedia.org], which is actually based on the OpFlashpoint/ArmA engine. And I guess it's a good engine for simulations like this. (I haven't played ArmA but I've played OpFlashpoint.)

  • Saw a new VR product - VisualPurple.com - that provide what looks like a SecondLife type 3d interface, except the NPC's can act independently according to some kind of story or workflow script. Their demo shows a Wireless CEO/sales scenario, but this would seem to be ready-made for counter-espionage training.

    If only I could draw more than stick people.....

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bart: You can't protect them every second. Sooner or later, you'll let your guard down, and then flush! It's toilet time for Tinytown!

  • by kaizokuace (1082079) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @09:40PM (#35217030)
    Haven't we learned that table-top is better than a computer version via extensive D&D research?

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