Amanda Ripley

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Homeland Security Shopping Spree

4th May 2008 posted in Resilience

The largest homeland security trade show is held every year in DC. This year, I brought a cameraman…which for some reason gave me permission to personally try out every emergency food bar, oxygen mask and pump-action shotgun that caught my fancy. Check out the video on Time.com.

Unlike most new industries, homeland security popped up with its own instant industrial complex attached. The country’s defense contractors simply did a find-change in their marketing strategies and ta da! Northrop Grumman became your protector on the battlefield AND the baseball field!

Some of the products at this year’s expo were wonderfully practical—electric one-man police vehicles (very helpful in a major disaster or evacuation when gasoline becomes impossible to find, but your handy pre-charged battery pack is ready to go), shatter-proof glass (most of the injuries from bombings often come from glass shards, so buildings in high-risk areas should be forced to use some kind of shatter-resistant material, in my opinion) and a surprisingly tasty one-a-day energy bar (tasted exactly like apple-pie crust and stays on the shelf for five years!).

Probably the most disturbing experience was the simulation shooting booth. There were several hundred computer simulations to choose from. You could test your skills in every kind of scenario, from a bank hold-up to a military take-down in some unnamed Muslim country. I chose a school shooting, as you can see in the Time video.

I think these kinds of exercises are hugely valuable for training, since the brain benefits a great deal from previous experience, even if it is simulated. Realistic training like this reduces the most-unhelpful side effects of fear—like a loss of eye-hand coordination and an inability to make decisions.

But that’s precisely why realistic shooter simulations should be reserved for professionals; they shouldn’t be in the homes of every teenage boy. Going through the exercise, which felt very real, I was reminded of how this kind of training can warp your worldview for the worse.

The very nice man running the booth mentioned how scary it is to see some teenagers try out these simulations: they are perfect shots, of course. They have been practicing with their home computer games for years.