Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 13, 2013

Virtual vehicles - simulators provide valuable training

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — It’s like “Sim City” meets “Grand Theft Auto” in video game terms.

And, in real-life terms, it’s some valuable training and experience for deputies, dispatchers and others in Navarro County.

Sheriff Elmer Tanner worked with the Texas Association of Counties to obtain the use of a special driving simulator to utilize for special training for sheriff’s office employees as well as other county departments.

The trainer — self contained in a trailer set up in the county parking lot — has been kept busy the last couple of weeks, as county employees take part in a classroom course covering all elements of driving, followed by a whirl in the “virtual reality trainer.”

The simulator creates real-world driving conditions in a “high-tech” environment that simulates situations drivers may actually encounter while on the road.

There are special simulations created for law enforcement officers, including high-speed pursuits with a variety of real-world scenarios built in — cross-street traffic, passing vehicles, pedestrians and distractions — designed to test the officer’s skills and reactions. Different weather condition scenarios can be introduced into the simulator as well, such as rain, wind, dust storms, fog and even snow.

“Safety is the biggest thing,” said Don Courtney, simulator training specialist, who’s running the training in Navarro County. “If we can help avoid any accidents at all then that’s where it’s at. It saves tax dollars, and saves the county money in that regard.”

The driving simulator training is one of several steps Tanner has made since taking office to enhance the sheriff’s department.

“We’re always taking a pro-active approach to training our officers and offering them all the opportunities that are available to upgrade our agency,” Tanner said.

The sheriff said he thinks the training is “vital” to the agency.

“It benefits everyone within our agency, because I’ve required every officer to participate in this,” he said. “It gives them different aspects from the simulator ... everybody in the agency having a little piece of what it would be like to be a patrolman, be in a pursuit, or just normal, everyday driving.”

Navarro County Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Connie Hickman is the current president of the Texas Association of Counties. She commended Tanner for his initiative to arrange for the simulator training.

“The association is all about helping counties better serve their citizens,” Hickman said. “This is one of the resources we have to help,” she added, one that adds no financial impact to the counties taking part in the program.

The program, launched in 2000, has served thousands of drivers in three-quarters of the state’s counties, according to information from TAC.

“The simulator training reinforces good driving habits that help improve employee safety, and makes them better prepared for the unexpected,” Courtney said.

Tanner said he is committed to offering whatever training opportunities he can for the benefit of the department and the public.

“We certainly want take every opportunity we can to give our officers more training and education in any field we might encounter as we serve the citizens of this county.”

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com