Video game trains FDNY for terrorist attack

The Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) is developing Hazmat: Hotzone, a simulation that uses videogame technology to train first responders about how to respond to hazardous materials emergencies.

According to the FDNY Fire Academy’s Chief Nicholas Santangelo, “Looking forward, the future for us is to train many new firefighters/officers and keep them as safe as possible while performing an inherently dangerous mission. The technology demonstrated by Carnegie Mellon will greatly enhance our ability to achieve that goal.”

Hazmat: Hotzone begins with an instructor choosing a setting and hazard to create a training scenario. A team of firefighters then enters the virtual scenario, each firefighter situated at his/her own computer station. The first responders can communicate over radios, “virtual” face-to-face and work as a team to investigate the situation, and safely guide civilians out of the hazardous areas and into the safe zone. The key to a successful scenario is taking the proper precautions, recognizing the signs and symptoms quickly, making the best decisions possible, and communicating as a team to save lives. The firefighters can then review and critique the scenario, even playing back the key points during the scenario.

“Games make it possible to do knowledge- or cognitive-based training at a low cost without even having to leave the classroom,” said ETC faculty member Jesse Schell, supervisor of Hazmat: Hotzone. “Since our country is faced with a situation where thousands of first responders across the nation suddenly need to be trained to deal with weapons of mass destruction attacks, training methods that are approachable, inexpensive and effective are a necessity.”

Hazmat: Hotzone is created to fill a gap in training, not to replace existing methods. Currently, hazardous materials training consists of classroom lectures and expensive, large-scale, field training exercises. Computer-based training is a more efficient and less expensive way to repetitively and frequently train for hazmat emergencies. This tool enhances the instructor’s ability to engage students in the classroom setting. The instructor is empowered through the process of creating, monitoring and evaluating every scenario that the trainees run through.

“The threats that a firefighter faces are constantly changing and their training must be responsive and reflective of these new situations. However, firefighters cannot perform their duties until they first learn how to protect themselves. In the hands of an experienced instructor, Hazmat: Hotzone is an invaluable tool for safely and effectively demonstrating to the firefighter a broad range of situations and the appropriate responses,” said hazmat technician specialist, Lieutenant Tony Mussorfiti. “What sets Hazmat: Hotzone apart from other training programs is that it is an instructor-based, interactive program, which allows the instructor to create the scenarios.”

Carnegie Mellon demonstrated Hazmat: Hotzone at the 2004 Fire Department Instructors Conference East, where fire departments from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland tested and confirmed the necessity of this type of training.

Ultimately, Carnegie Mellon plans to turn Hazmat: Hotzone into a tool with enough depth and flexibility that it can be used at fire training centers nationwide. Critical to the vision is that the system should be distributed to centers free of charge, so that the safety of a community is not limited by its training budget. The long-term plan is to expand the system to train all emergency responders: firefighters, medical professionals and police.

The Entertainment Technology Center is a joint master’s program between Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science. For more information contact Eric Sloss at 412-268-5765 or by email at [email protected] visit

From Carnegie Mellon University

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