Tactics Centre: Space for collective learning processes

The Tactics Centre of the International Fire Academy is used for the education and training of incident commanders. With the specially developed projection technology, all conceivable scenarios can be represented and played through by the course participants. A central topic of practice is always communication via radio.

I don't see you; you don't see me

One of the great challenges of operations in tunnels is the large spatial distance between the officers. They do not see each other and, in most cases, they cannot meet in one place for joint situation meetings. As a result, all communication between the operations management on both portal sides and the unit leaders in the tunnel must be carried out by radio. This requires high precision and concentration, which must be practised. That is why our Tactics Centre essentially consists out of four rooms that stand for the two portal zones, the interior of the tunnel and the fire service control centre, as well as for train courses for the operating centre of the railway company. Incidentally, the basic idea was developed in the mid-2000s by the fire service inspectorate of the canton of Basel-Landschaft by using a civil protection system with several large rooms for tabletop games.

Light instead of paper

In the beginning, the plans with the tunnel tubes and portal zones were plotted on paper in order to outline the tactical measures with pens. The result was an immense consumption of paper and soon, an unmanageable amount of paper rolls. That is why the International Fire Academy, together with specialists in projection technology, developed the tactical tables used today. They consist of a support frame for three large glass plains, onto which the plans are projected from below using short-distance projectors. This allows for a virtually infinite variety of scenarios and a quick change between the different plans. 

Simulated situations, real stress

The situations to be processed by the incident commanders are comparatively easy to simulate. Because the officers receive exactly the same information in the tabletop game as in an emergency, for example, "Fire of a truck in the middle of the tunnel and smoke escaping on the east side". Together with the facility-specific information on the plan (length of the tunnel, the arrangement of the tubes, cross passages, etc.), the first tactical decisions can already be made. Everyone is aware that this is just a scenario, that nobody is really in danger and that wrong decisions cannot have bad consequences. Nevertheless, the tabletop games are carried out with great seriousness and the course participants come under real pressure to make decisions and sometimes sweat. 

Thinking in variants

For tactical tasks tabletop, there are usually several solutions possible and rarely only one correct approach. Tactical training at the International Fire Academy, therefore, places great emphasis on thinking about alternatives. Students should develop different solutions and weigh their advantages and disadvantages against each other. The debriefings are therefore of central importance. It is neither praised nor criticized, but rather discussed by all course participants together, which approaches are expedient and what can be optimized in the next scenario. The instructors moderate this collective learning process - everyone must benefit from it for themselves.  

Complexity with the simplest of means

In tabletop simulation technology, we combine two-dimensional plans with three-dimensional resources. Tubes, roadways, portal zones etc. are drawn with a presentation program and are projected. We use 1:87 and 1:160 scale models to display fire apparatus, large fans, and damaged road and rail vehicles. Emergency personnel and persons are symbolized by figures, fire and rescue trains are produced by means of 3D printing. Despite the simplicity of all these simulation tools, scenarios of any complexity can be created. The only thing that matters is what happens in the mind of the students.