"Abbottville" Tabletop Simulator Training

Don and Bev Abbott describe how responders learn to control incidents by using case studies.


"Abbottville" is a 12-by-18-foot diorama created by Command Emergency Response Training (CERT) that can be set up to resemble any city, town or rural area. Photo by Glen E. Ellman Don Abbott, center, outlines an "Abbottville" scenario to a group of emergency responders at...


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"Abbottville" is a 12-by-18-foot diorama created by Command Emergency Response Training (CERT) that can be set up to resemble any city, town or rural area.

6_98_abbottville1.jpg
Photo by Glen E. Ellman
Don Abbott, center, outlines an "Abbottville" scenario to a group of emergency responders at Firehouse Emergency Services Expo in Baltimore. The students have been issued radios and identification vests to lend realism to the exercise.

What makes "Abbottville" different from other tabletops is that we use actual case studies of incidents. We have more than 80 scenarios - everything from fires and hazmat spills to plane and train crashes.

We develop each script from case studies, using whatever materials and sources are available, including shipping documents, Manufacturer Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), building diagrams and interviews with participants in emergency incidents. We have, at times, built models of the buildings involved in the case studies. By using real incidents and case studies we provide a benchmark that can be used to examine how the student participants handle the tabletop incident compared to the actual events outlined in the case study.

CERT's intent is to provide a positive atmosphere for learning. We do not attempt to mislead, embarrass or point fingers at the participants. We use a traffic light as a teaching aid. This light is green at the beginning of each exercise, signifying that the situation is going well, and can change colors as the result of student actions. A yellow light indicates that a situation or action has occurred that could cause emergency responders to be injured or killed. When the problem is corrected, the light goes back to green. If the action is not corrected, the light turns red and all action is stopped. A time-out is taken to discuss the actions or inactions of the students and what can be done to correct the problem. The incident is then re-started after the action/inaction is corrected.

We use HO-scale vehicles of the likeness used by police, fire, EMS, public works and other agencies. Colored string is used to simulate fire hose sizes; lays are made from hydrants that are on the tabletop. In some cases, there are no hydrants in the area, so tankers and small dump tanks are available for use by the students for drafting operations. We also provide manning - small HO-scaled "people" representing firefighters with and without SCBA, police, EMTs and paramedics, and others in the responding community, including hazmat levels A and B.

6_98_abbottville2.jpg
Photo by Glen E. Ellman
It takes Don and Bev Abbott hours to set up "Abbottville," which is contained in upwards of 30 boxes, each weighing from 20 to 55 pounds.

The realism provided by "Abbottville" establishes the mindset of the students to perform as they would in an actual emergency. Actual fire and smoke are used to add to the realism. The fire is not allowed to be extinguished until the correct gpm has been established and lines and attack positions provide for extinguishment. Real chemicals that were spilled or leaked during an incident may be used in small amounts to let the students use monitoring equipment we provide to determine protection, hazard zones and whether to evacuate or protect in-place. We even use emergency-incident sound effects.

We've found that role playing greatly enhances the realism of the scenarios. Bev often plays the role of the 911 dispatcher and Don may play a train engineer, company owner or a reporter.

We started out training mainly fire departments in the incident command system (ICS), tactics and safety procedures but we soon incorporated all aspects of emergency management and unified command into the scenarios. "Abbottville" lends itself to emergency management agencies and local emergency planning committees. We also assist police and EMS agencies with their training. When petro-chemical and refinery facilities learned of "Abbottville," they requested help in training in-plant emergency responders. They also invited local emergency agencies to practice unified command. Don has even been contracted to build several "on site" setups that resemble company property.

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