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CAP conducts virtual training for real disaster relief

June 14, 2020

California Wing’s San Francisco Bay Area Group 2 tested new disaster relief training in a fully virtual environment

Oakland, Calif. – On two consecutive weekends, including 23 May and 31 May 2020, forty-five Civil Air Patrol members participated in a simulated emergency. As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, the training was the first fully virtual exercise of its kind and included air and ground operations in both disaster relief (DR) and search and rescue (SAR) scenarios.

Aircrew identifies missing aircraft on route search. Aircraft circled in red.

A total of seven air sorties and two ground sorties were conducted. Air crew training included three emergency locator transmitter (ELT) searches, three visual searches, and one airborne photography sortie. One of the searches resulted in a successful find and enabled further training on the process of coordinating with the ground team to go to the site. The second ground sortie was conducted by a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) team for a virtual damage assessment following a simulated earthquake.

Participants came from across California but were primarily composed of members of the San Francisco Bay Area Group 2 and NorCal Group 5. The exercise was made possible through a combination of technologies including flight simulators and other tools that allowed computers to share virtual location data. The event was managed and tracked as if it were a traditional, in-person mission, using CAP’s information and reporting system.

According to the mission’s Incident Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Suter, the exercise “was a tremendous opportunity to hone basic skills during a time where operating in a face-to-face training environment is not possible.  Without this virtual training, skills would erode.  It also allows us to develop a training regimen and hone skills when the weather is poor during the winter.”  

Using technologies in a virtual world enables participants to practice scenarios that are not possible in the real world, such as placing an aircraft in the search area for participants to find. Similarly, a mission pilot could fly with multiple mission scanners, while the number of occupants in the aircraft in a live mission would be limited due to safety considerations.

Cadets, who are normally not afforded opportunities to learn advanced emergency services skills due to the risks involved in the field, can expand their critical skill sets using these online tools. Lifting certain constraints in a virtual environment allowed for increased engagement of members and provided previously unavailable training and interaction in a low/no-risk fashion.


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