It’s about making things more real.
When SensoryCo and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) paired up at the end of April in 2012 to incorporate the scents of nitric acid and GCS (a generic WMD, gaseous-like smell), we found ourselves amongst the rubble and residuals of disaster with a shared goal: a re-creation of some of the darkest realities in hopes of a kind of utilitarian success rate: “the most good for the most people” as responder Mike McKenna eloquently describes in a CNN article that covers the exact disaster rescue training scenario SensoryCo was a part of.
Disaster City® is exactly what it sounds like, 52 acres of simulated catastrophe. Scenes from the wreckage beg for a level of bravery that merits mounds of experience. Although, a test of bravery usually isn’t appropriate, as many of these men and women who show up to train from all over the United States are experienced veterans.
The inspiration for such an ambitious city came from the rise of terrorist attacks in the 90’s and from Texas A&M professor G. Kemble “Kem” Bennett who understood the magnitude that only experience can teach us. And at that, experience based in true disaster rescue scenarios.
It is narratives such as these that gave rise to the all immersive training environments found today: “There was damage, despair and disgust everywhere,” McKenna says as he describes his experience in Katrina. “We are conditioned to view damage myopically: We see a house fire, a car wreck, etc., out of our forward view and for usually just a couple of hours. But if we turn our head or walk away, we can regain ‘normal.’ In Katrina, we never escaped the view, smell and sounds of widespread destruction, for 27 days. It either chews you up or you find a way to endure.”
The magnitude of such a statement inspires SensoryCo technologists to enhance environments with the scents of reality so that endurance and experience can become your friend, and not your nightmare. But the smells are not the only element of authenticity. Mannequins and moulage make-up color the air of reality during the 80 member TX-TF1 FSE (acronyms are highly favored in the Search and Rescue world – this one is short for Texas Task Force 1 Full Scale Exercise). With an emphasis on methodology, thoughtfulness and a necessary detachment comes efficiency and success. Training for emergencies is much more than the Hollywood mad dash into the wreckage; cautious and thoughtful rescues take hours and hours of marginal moves towards a better end.
Aroma generators were placed strategically to emit the same kinds of scents that these disaster relief crew members might encounter. As SensoryCo stood along the sidelines, watching in awe and a heightened anticipation, we waited for someone, anyone, to recognize the scent of danger. It is our business, after all, to focus on the subtleties within an environment.
At the end of the experience, the trainees became the experts of our hidden subtleties and SensoryCo attendees were left in the sillage of new perspective. As we stepped away from the scents of nitric acid and weapons grade gasses, the crumbling buildings, the mocked mannequins, the medical equipment; we found ourselves discussing our new concept of the elements of reality. It isn’t just the aroma generators, the make-up or the cries for help. It is everything, all together. At the end of a very long day, it is organizations like TEEX that are changing response skills, finessing disaster rescue capabilities and building confidence for the victims and their hero’s.