The special effects industry is no longer exclusive to Hollywood. Atop a 160 acre tract just north of L.A., you’ll find the Del Valle Regional Training Center, fully loaded with props of wreckage and simulated emergencies for fire, urban search and rescue and HazMat Full Immersive Training (F.I.T.) programs. Between the scenes of disaster, scents like chlorine and ammonia float as markers for potential disaster. Fog effects billow around over turned barrels and chemical tanks as training scenarios come to life for engaged participants.
Del Valle is utilized by several emergency response organizations across the globe and operated by the L.A. County Fire Department since it was purchased in 1984. “These Full Immersive Training (F.I.T.) programs offers years of experience in one afternoon,” explains Ian Good, the HazMat Training Coordinator. “But these realistic simulations also brand the experience into our trainee’s minds, counter-acting against the risk of memory degradation over extended periods of time. See, most of these guys go 10 years without using certain parts of their training, but these are important procedures to remember. With this F.I.T program, we wanted to focus on helping our emergency responders capture the knowledge they needed and effectively store it for later. And sometimes it’s a long time until it gets pulled from the memory banks. We need to address that. This was the solution.”
And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Funded by Homeland Security grants, the intention was to create a training program that utilized the latest research in cognitive psychology. First, the Gestalt psychology was examined. As the theory explains, “the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies, or that the whole is different from the sum of its parts.” Out of this concept comes 6 laws, one of which was applied to the F.I.T. program development: the habit to perceptually fill in the blanks. For example, read the word “ap le”. Easily you add in the missing “p”. It works this way with memory recall as well. Each missing piece from our memory of experience gets fitted with something that is familiar and related to the original memory. This does not always ensue accuracy and in the event that a HazMat specialist needs to perform a procedure flawlessly at any give time, this could be a real problem.
Secondly, multi-sensory learning used with autistic children was investigated. These techniques allow the participant to cross reference the experience with multiple layers of thoughtful sensory input. The end result is quite simple, a wider range of associations are created when a wider range of sensory stimulation is utilized. Much like the we experience the world around us, which entails a synthesis of many different sensory inputs at one time, learning techniques that speak to us much like the world does have proven incredibly effective.
However, the issue of accuracy in recall still stands. Adding scent and fog effects to an environment is not necessarily enough unless the design of the environment is carefully considered. Most training simulations contain a reactionary progression based on the participants movements and decisions. Del Valle is no exception. This allows exploitation of defining characteristics within the brain of any participant, whether it’s Law Enforcement, CBRNE or HazMat specialists.
Thoughtful design, sensory stimulation and consequence driven training programs contain the solution to the failures of memory degradation. As training turns Hollywood, action packed thrillers turn to real life emergencies. Fog and scenting effects used for engagement in the studio now translates into trainee engagement in the real world. Thank you, Hollywood.