Tech success: Video training cuts gun mishaps

IT solutions in action

Partners: Alpha Solutions Corp. and LearnKey Inc.

Goal:Reduce the number of Navy guards' gun mishaps.

Obstacle:Many people need to be trained quickly and often. Also, the lessons are too complex for textbook-training alone to suffice.

Solution: The Navy turned to an e-learning course than can run from a CD or over the Internet or an intranet. High-quality video and other visuals help convey the information.

Payoff:The number of gun mishaps has declined dramatically, and the Navy can train more people faster.

A terrorists' attack ripped a hole in the side of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole and signaled a need for stouter security at ports.

An increase in the number of armed sentries improved security but left Navy officials with another problem: accidental gun mishaps.

To address the dangerous situation, officials turned to computer-based training, which could be used on land or at sea, said Tony Walker, president of e-learning consultancy Alpha Solutions Corp., Virginia Beach, Va.

"While sailors have handled small arms, that has not been one of their primary duties or responsibilities," Walker said. "That changed after the Cole incident and the 9/11 attacks."

Navy guards carry small arms, including Beretta 9mm handguns, M500 12-gauge pump-action shotguns and M14 and M16 rifles. With more sailors more frequently handling firearms after the security increase, gun mishaps began to rise.

"They had a lot of people who needed additional training and remediation to truly bring them up to a level where they were fully qualified to operate those weapons," Walker said. "There are only so many people who can get into a classroom or series of classrooms. And when you have a large population of people to train, a classroom is possibly not the best method, especially when you're in a hurry."

Unlike subjects that can be taught using only a textbook, firearms training required high-quality video to make it worthwhile, Walker said. Alpha consultants turned to LearnKey Inc. to help develop a pilot training course for the Beretta 9mm handgun.

St. George, Utah-based LearnKey has been developing courseware since 1987, said John Clemons, the company's CEO. Using a script derived from Pentagon handbooks, military experts explain and demonstrate on video proper protocol for handling the weapons.

For example, one accident-prone procedure was clearing the barrel of the Beretta, Walker said. Before a guard transfers the weapon to another guard, the weapon is unloaded. During this, the gun is held in a safety chamber so if it fires, no one would get hurt.

"By the time they would reach this lesson, they're completely familiar with the nomenclature, the proper way to holster the weapon, the proper stance and proper commands," Walker said.

Using Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint slides and digital video clips, the sailors see the procedure for clearing a gun barrel. A series of quizzes reinforces that knowledge before they move on to the next lesson.

LearnKey has been making CD-ROM and Web-based courses for years, but developing these custom products for the Navy presented some challenges, said Jamie Franzman, LearnKey's vice president of sales and marketing.

Because Navy computers are not allowed to accept any downloads, the CDs had to be "all in one" and hold courseware, data and applications, so that they did not trigger firewall issues.

Navy computers don't have Macromedia Inc.'s Flash installed, for example, Franzman said. "Even if you don't have Flash installed on your machine, this product will play 100 percent without any installation on it. It runs 100 percent off the CD," he said.

For some sailors, the Navy wanted the course available from its portal, Navy Knowledge Online. A Web version that allows downloading of the courseware, data and supporting applications had to be developed in tandem with the CD version.

A further challenge in developing the program was that many of the Navy's computers were less powerful than those with which LearnKey usually works.

"The first CD we built, we had to rebuild a couple of times to make it perform at the level that we expected it to," Franzman said. "We had to continually tweak our files to bring them down to play at the level we needed. That was done through editing and manipulation of the files."

The course is built using LearnKey's proprietary interface and commercial software, such as Flash, PowerPoint and Adobe Systems Inc.'s InDesign and Photoshop.

So far, the training courses have been successful, Alpha's Walker said. In 2002, the average number of monthly injuries caused by small-arms accidents doubled from the previous year, Alpha officials said. By 2004, accidents had fallen to fewer than half of those that occurred in 2001. And in two three-month periods last year, the number of mishaps decreased by 50 percent, Alpha officials said.

The training's success will lead to customized training in other areas, such as training people to be supervisors at firing ranges, Walker said.

LearnKey's Clemons agrees that demand is increasing for e-learning products, particularly customized courses.

"We believe these Navy projects will lead to others," Clemons said. "Anything that can be well taught using motion picture and video, we can accomplish. I think you're going to see a lot more video, where previously e-learning has been a lot of text turning."

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Doug Beizer at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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