Training in Transformation - the JSRTS Program
Beginning in late 2005, officials at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia, worked to create an entirely new way to train for domestic contingencies like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and so on. Collectively called JSRTS - short for the Joint State Response Training System, this suite of software capabilities was revolutionary in its approach and its scope. It remains so today, as nothing developed since that time comes close to the objective capabilities of the program.
The genesis for JSRTS came in December 2005, when the NGB J7 - the National Guard's Joint Force Training Directorate - was tasked to create Pandemic Influenza response training for state and local national guard organizations across the country. This was a daunting task; the National Guard plays a key role in domestic contingency response in all 54 of the state and territories. An effective training solution needed to be exportable to all of the states and territories while being affordable at the same time.
NGB J7 leaders quickly understood that there existed no real means of accomplishing this type of training in a timely and cost effective way. Traditional training techniques involved the creation of Mobile Training Teams (MTT) which would travel from state to state, delivering training in a classroom setting. Unfortunately, this approach was neither cost effective nor rapid. A different approach was needed. Officials decided on a radically different approach called JSRTS.
JSRTS consisted of three heavily interrelated software systems, collectively designed to allow cost effective training at the individual, small unit and collective levels. The approach was radical in several important ways:
Training from the Cloud: JSRTS was cloud based - this at a time when the term had yet to be invented. The reason for this critical innovation was simple - government networks were so restricted that a thin-client, browser-based system was determined to be the only approach with any hope of successful implementation. In the end, this goal proved to be only partly attainable given the state of technology at the time, but the approach was nonetheless extremely successful in many ways.
Intuitive Interface: Anyone familiar with software developed for government users is painfully aware that these tools are often extremely difficult to use. JSRTS managers were relentlessly focused on intuitive interface and design, making component capabilities extremely easy to use. In one example, JSRTS officials demonstrated the ability to create and execute a collective exercise for up to 250 personnel, anywhere in the United States, in less than five minutes. The entire suite of capabilities was designed to be used without external support, relying instead upon a central web-based help desk. As with the cloud based aspect of the program, this level of ease-of-use proved to be a bridge too far, but the system was and remains extremely intuitive.
Scalability: JSRTS was designed from its inception to provide a comprehensive capability, supporting both education and training for individual users, small groups and large organizations on demand. At the individual level, the system provided linkage to existing web-based training courses offered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the National Guard Bureau, and other organizations focused on domestic contingency response. The educational component was followed by an individual training capability, which enabled the user to train his or her skills as a member of a state or local emergency management staff or a State National Guard Joint Operations Center (JOC) - with the software simulating all of the other needed staff skills. This same capability then allowed some or all of these staff members to train collectively, with the software filling in for any absent personnel. Finally, JSRTS offered the potential for large numbers of staffs to train for large scale contingencies, with dozens or even hundreds of staffs training on a common platform - the objective capability was training for Hurricane Katrina, with over 300 national, state and local staffs involved). In one notable example of the power of this capability, users in one Washington State training exercise were joined by a member located in Montana, nearly 500 miles away - which doesn't seem that revolutionary until you realize that this capability still doesn't exist in the closed systems used today!
Cost Effective Operation and Delivery: The combination of cloud-based training delivery and intuitive interface meant that the JSRTS capability could be delivered on a vast scale and at a fraction of the cost of traditional systems. During its operational use beginning in 2011, JSRTS routinely delivered on-demand training for individuals and staffs at a no cost to the individual user, with servers being resourced centrally at the national guard bureau. Collective training was similarly cost effective, with state level exercises routinely costing less than $10,000 per exercise (versus hundreds of thousands for similar capabilities).