Preparing pilots for the worst


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Drizzt
July 7, 2003, 02:45 AM
The Boston Globe

July 2, 2003, Wednesday ,THIRD EDITION

SECTION: NATIONAL/FOREIGN; Pg. A3

LENGTH: 914 words

HEADLINE: PREPARING PILOTS FOR THE WORST SIMULATION PROGRAM TRAINS THEM TO SHOOT

BYLINE: By Chryss Cada, Globe Correspondent

BODY:
LITTLETON, Colo. - It's decision time.

A terrorist has broken down the unreinforced cockpit door and now has a knife to the copilot's throat.

What should the captain do? Now that pilots are allowed to carry firearms in the cockpit, he potentially has one more option available - but should he use it?

Only the pilot and his decision are real in this interactive program that the Transportation Security Administration has chosen for the training of pilots who take their guns to work. While the cockpit intrusion projected on a big screen isn't real, it's as close to reality as technology can take trainees. The unfolding scenario will change immediately based on the decisions he or she makes.

"Our system makes the setting as realistic as possible, so that if a pilot finds himself or herself in a similar situation again, they will know how to react," said Todd Brown, training manager at IES Interactive Training, creators of the computer-driven projection system, known as the Range 3000, that is being used by the TSA. "They will react at a gut level because it's something they've been through before."

The TSA ran a "pilot pilot" program in mid-April, in which 44 pilots were trained on how to respond to terrorist attacks on the job. The six-day course took place at the TSA training facility in Glynco, Ga. Only pilots who have been trained will be deputized and allowed to carry guns. Weekly training will start July 20.

"We were very pleased with the training program," TSA spokeswoman Suzanne Luber told The Denver Post after the April training. The administration is no longer commenting on IES while it considers the company for a permanent contract.

"They can't get the decision made to buy, so they're leasing the system again in July," said Joe Mason, vice president of IES, based in Littleton, Colo. IES has 19 employees and had $6 million in revenues last year.

TSA trainers who have used the program have sent "sole source justification" letters asking TSA decision-makers to supersede the bidding process and use the IES system. Officials will either grant IES a permanent contract based on its trainers' recommendations or go into a three-month bidding process.

In 2002, 73 percent of Air Line Pilots Association members said they supported pilots carrying guns. But John Mazor, a spokesman for the association, estimates that fewer than half of those who said they were in favor of carrying guns would undergo the training.

"I think that a very small percentage of those pilots who support the idea conceptually will put up with the effort, personal expense, and hassle of undergoing training," Mazor said. "As a result it's not going to be anywhere near a majority of airline pilots carrying guns."

Congress created the TSA after the Sept. 11 attacks and gave it the power to decide whether to allow pilots to carry guns or nonlethal weapons. When the TSA decided against arming pilots, Congress overrode the Bush administration, enacting a law allowing pilots to carry guns.

"It's one thing to know what to do in the case of a terrorist attack, it's another entirely to have the presence of mind to actually do it," said Mason, the IES vice president.

In the scenario faced by the captain above, IES recommends that the pilot shoot the intruder threatening the copilot.

"The pilot's main job is to land the plane," said IES president Greg Otte. "In this situation that ability was being threatened and the pilot needed to respond to that threat with deadly force.

"All the scenarios have changed since 9/11; now we're seeing deadly force as the correct option far more often."

During its six years in business, IES has sold its one-of-a-kind simulators to more than 400 police departments, federal agencies, correctional facilities, airports, and others with security concerns. The simulators are used for training by 27 organizations in Massachusetts, including the Boston Police Department.

One of the strengths of the IES system is that it allows the user to create customized scenarios. Users stage and film situations unique to their organizations' facilities, professions, or other specifics. The filming is done from the point of view of the trainee, who then responds to the unfolding situation.

The Maritime Law Enforcement School in Yorktown, Va., has been using the IES system to train Coast Guard recruits since 1998. It films staff members acting out scenarios on board old vessels.

"Textbook learning is one thing," said Ray Philiyaw, a training specialist who uses the system in Yorktown. "You can read about and talk about something all that you want, but when it comes to using deadly force you need experience.

"The more realism you can offer in training the better, and this system is as realistic as it gets."

The Range 3000 used by the TSA includes a large video screen, a computer, and two small projectors. The systems cost an average of $50,000. Trainees are give weapons based on what would be available in a particular situation. Guns, flashlights, batons, pepper spray, and Tasers can be fitted with lasers that interact with the screen.

If a trainee fires his or her weapon, the program will mark the shot as lethal, nonlethal, or a miss. A trainer operates the program, adjusting it to the actions of the trainee, and the video branches according to the trainee's actions. Each scenario has as many as 50 possible outcomes.

"This goes way beyond 'Shoot, don't shoot,' " Mason said.

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