As an innovation hub, Hatch takes it upon us to have a better understanding of the challenges that our frontline users face. Last week, we had the honour of embarking on a guided tour at Singapore’s Civil Defence Academy. Our visit was centred around the Emergency Responders’ Fitness Conditioning and Enhancement Lab (EXCEL). This purpose-built facility, jointly developed by HTX and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), aims to revolutionize the capabilities of emergency responders across the Home Team. The experience provided us with invaluable insights into the innovative research and training methodologies employed and left us with a profound appreciation for the dedication and innovation of the teams driving the improvement of emergency responder performance.
Overview of EXCEL
Boasting a real-estate of over 1,200 square meters, EXCEL houses five distinct labs, each specializing in a unique aspect of emergency responder training and development. They include the Strength, Conditioning & Rehabilitation in Virtual Environment (STRiVE) lab, Heat Acclimatization and Thermoregulation (HEAT) lab, Fitness Evaluation Lab, Cognitive Lab, and Digital Learning Lab. Together, these labs form the foundation of SCDF-HTX research, development, and education, providing a comprehensive and scientific approach to training and operations.
Pushing the Boundaries of Human Performance
Our first stop was the STRiVE lab, which employs advanced technology to provide emergency responders with real-time feedback on their kinetics and kinematics. Our team was dazzled by how futuristic looking the lab was, consisting of a motion platform, a dual-belt treadmill, motion capture systems, and visualization and audio systems. STRiVE creates an immersive virtual environment which enables responders to simulate challenging operational terrains, such as rough waters for marine units. As someone who does water sports on the weekends, I could appreciate how this would help marine firefighters practice and acclimatise to the different terrains they might face at sea. This could provide comprehensive and quantitative data on the efficiency of emergency responders which can be used to enhance operational readiness and adaptability. Our team from Hatch were enlightened to see such state-of-the-art facilities in use with SCDF and were encouraged by their dedication towards excellency. Knowing the intricacies of these equipment allow us to source for innovative solutions that can complement and leverage on them.
Understanding the Impact of Environmental Factors
Moving onto the HEAT lab, we learnt that it was situated within an environmental chamber. With temperature ranges from -10°C to 80°C and varying humidity levels, the lab simulates climatic conditions that responders may encounter during critical missions. By assessing the impact of these factors, it enables SCDF and HTX scientists to study the effects of environmental factors on physical performance. The equipment was also designed to be replicate what firefighters will be required to do and benchmarks were set according to fire regulations in Singapore. I wondered how I would fare in those stations or if I could even carry the casualty when wearing all the heavy firefighting equipment. Such a complex and realistic simulator allows Hatch to look and leverage on other existing technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) to augment and make simulated trainings more realistic for our end users. To this end, it would greatly benefit our end users as they can train safely and realistically to improve their competencies and skills before going out into the field.
Measuring and Enhancing Physiological Fitness
Next up was the Fitness Evaluation Lab, where we were awed by the level of technology available. At first glance, you would not be alone if you mistook it for a private gym. The lab employs the use of cutting-edge technology, like what you find in sports, to have thorough assessments of cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, body composition, lower-body power, speed, and agility. Individual responders can even establish personal benchmarks and identify areas for targeted interventions. These evaluations contribute to the establishment of elite/specialist vocation benchmarks, ensuring that responders are equipped with the necessary physical fitness to excel in their respective roles. This gave us better understanding into the direction and technology that SCDF fields and allows us to better align ourselves with the vision of SCDF.
Cognitive Training for Optimal Performance
Thinking that we have seen it all, we were then shown the Cognitive Lab. Recognising that cognitive abilities is just as important as physical endurance, the lab focuses on developing new training protocols to enhance responders’ cognitive and behavioural performance. The equipment that caught our eyes was the functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) system. It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie and reminded me of what Professor X from X-Men would be seen wearing. However, its actual use is to monitor brain activity and eye tracking for situational awareness training, which enables responders to optimize their mental acuity and decision-making skills. Additionally, next to the fNIRS systems, the Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) helps identify changes in attention and fatigue, ensuring that responders remain sharp and effective in demanding situations.
The Power of Data Analytics
Now this was when I pondered, “Where do they process all these data?” My answer lied in the room down the hallway, where data from the various labs within EXCEL converge in the nerve centre of the facility—the System Control & Data Analytics Centre. This centralized hub, managed through the Test Results and Assessment Management System (TRAMS), facilitates comprehensive analysis and interpretation of the information gathered. By integrating these insights, EXCEL becomes a nexus for collaboration between HTX’s Human Factors & Simulation Centre of Expertise scientists and SCDF’s Responder Performance Centre officers, driving forward in-house R&D projects that redefine the performance of emergency responders. The big screens, complex control panels flanked by multiple monitors gave the operator the ability to have unmatched situational awareness at their fingertips. Data and results can be pulled up and analysed from the click of a button. Afterall, with such advanced equipment and technology, it would only be fitting that there is an advanced main system overseeing and accessing all these data.
Personal Thoughts and Reflection
Being an intern at Hatch has opened my eyes to the vital role that the different HomeTeam agencies play in ensuring the safety as well as security of our home. This visit to the Civil Defence Academy has allowed me to better appreciate and witness the achievements from the hard work and dedication of both the frontline officers, as well as those working tirelessly in the background to improve the safety and wellbeing of the responders on the ground. Our work here at Hatch is ever more important in today’s VUCA environment, as we look for innovative solutions to stay abreast of the threats of tomorrow. This visit provides us with an understanding of the needs of SCDF and will be the first of many as we dive more in-depth into their various specialised units. Such visits will allow us at Hatch to get a better grasp of their needs and allow us to keep up to date with progressions and challenges of the HomeTeam agencies. With this visit, we can now adapt old practices and adopt new ones to better suit the needs of SCDF. This marks the beginning of a promising journey for us at Hatch and I am excited to see what is in store for us!
Our visit to Civil Defence Academy and the EXCEL facility left an indelible impression on our team. Witnessing the dedication, innovation, and scientific rigor that underpin emergency responder training was truly inspiring. EXCEL’s state-of-the-art labs and comprehensive approach to enhancing responder performance are invaluable assets for the Home Team. We were heartened by the joint efforts of HTX and SCDF as we recognize the significance of continuous improvement and innovation in ensuring the safety and well-being of our communities. We are proud to be part of an industry that embraces innovative research and development and learnt a lot from our experience at the Civil Defence Academy. Together, we can push the boundaries of human performance and redefine the capabilities of emergency responders to create a safer and more resilient world.