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The Digital EOC Journey v.2.0 - Week 5

Image of Unity Hub download screen for digital EOC virtual training platform build.
Download Unity Hub to Build Digital EOC in

Okay, so yet again another interesting week here in my activities. Here in BC we’re having a record breaking wildfire season so as you can imagine, a bunch of my time has been diverted over to that in terms of client support and protecting personal property. I’ve still been working on this digital EOC project as time has allowed. If you haven’t been following my previous posts, this is week 5 in my personal journey to develop a virtual reality based tool for digital emergency plans and online training and exercising by the end of September. I’m taking an approach of “an old dog can learn new tricks” in that I come from over 35 years of operational emergency management background and I’m now jumping in with both feet to figure out how to build out what I think is the next evolution in training and exercising.

Here's a link to my previous posts if you want to get some background on this:

And now we have week 5, which is about what I got up to last week after the regrouping phase in my project. In week 4 the Digital EOC Regrouping I stepped back a bit for a good rethink on how I was doing all of this, and I landed on a new approach of building out a virtual reality based prototype myself using readily available tools online. I landed on because I had played with it a year or so back and actually built something that got some good feedback from my peers. Good enough to get me more interested in this approach. So naturally, when one regroups on something, pretty much the first thing they do is go to YouTube. That’s what I did.

I found a short series of educational videos posted by a fellow called Metaverse Josh. If you google or YouTube search it, he will pop up. He seemed to have everything I needed to get going. He is fluent in both Unity, the gaming platform, and which is built on Unity. Clearly, after watching the first video it was pretty apparent that he knows his stuff. So I watched the entire series so that I had some context around what might be possible when I started digging into actually building something.

The first step in the process is to install a version of Unity Hub, and because I already have it installed from previous activities, I only had to do an update. Quick & simple. But then it became very apparent that I don’t know how to use Unity. Following Metaverse Josh was invaluable, but the steps still took time. After a couple of attempts of downloading and installing the Starter Template over the course of an hour or so I finally managed to create my Digital EOC project in Unity.

But then I discovered that the virtual EOC environment that I had built last year in a GLB file format didn’t work the same way as how Metaverse Josh had been working with FBX file types in his educational video. So, I went and found a way to convert. That process took less than a minute. I googled “convert glb file to fbx” and a bunch of free converters popped up on the search screen. I used the first one and it was only a few seconds. Then when I dragged the file over into the Digital EOC project in Unity, I was seeing the same sort of stuff that Josh has in his video. That’s a win for me.

Then I went down the Sketchfab rabbit hole. Metaverse Josh uses a download from Sketchfab and he has access to edit all the attributes whereas the converted FBX file I had just done didn’t. So, I spent some time in Sketchfab figuring out how that fit into the project. After a bit of soul searching, I decided to spend $15 to buy an existing meeting room that would represent most small EOCs but also allow me to turn it into a small learning room. I soon discovered that the developer had limited the textures customization in the scene. Metaverse Josh, on the other hand, had chosen an environment where the developer did a very thorough job of the layout and design such that all features were well structured and editable. The one I purchased...not so much. That said, it still proved to be a good place for me to learn how to work with the Spatial Creator Kit that is based in Unity. A bit of a steep learning curve, especially when what Metaverse Josh sees on his screen is a bit different than what I see on mine.

So once I got to that point, and I was over the initial mild state of “what have I got myself into” apprehension, I got a little bit distracted by the wildfires. I took a run up to the family cabin to make sure that everything was in good shape and all this season’s FireSmart work had been done. (Thanks to my brother for doing a big clean up earlier in the season) Because our cabin is off-the-grid, I didn’t get a chance to do as much on this digital EOC project as I had hoped to but I’m back in the saddle, so game on.

I would like to have a better more detailed update for you this week, but as noted I wasn’t fully engaged this past week. But I will be now. There’s so much smoke in the air these days, my activities are limited to indoors. My next steps this week are to start building out some basic features. For starters, I learned that it’s pretty easy to do things like change colors and textures. I will be adding in some workstations for the key EOC functions. To me, that is quite simply a desk, chair, and a computer on the desktop. Here’s where building my digital EOC gets a bit cool though.

It's fairly easy for me to set a spot anywhere in the room where I want the avatar (that will be you the user) to enter. It seems logical to put that at the main entrance. Where there are chairs at each workstation, I can set a hotspot in so that the avatar can actually sit down. That wasn’t available last year when I first tried this tool. We experimented a bit on our team with using it as a virtual meeting room. It worked functionally, but one of our team members kept showing up with a forearm growing out of her head and would trot around the room looking like some weird humanoid unicorn alien. I don’t care who you are. That’s always funny. But not what you want to see constantly in a virtual EOC. Fortunately that doesn’t happen anymore. And we’re also going to make the computers on the desktop as interactive 3D objects so when you click on or near it, the digital emergency plan and training options will open up. This stuff is all pretty straight forward but I’ve got a couple of other ideas.

It's pretty easy to set areas around an avatar where people can hear the conversation. In fact, you can set it so that the closer you are, the louder it is, and the further away you are, the quieter it is. Just like the real thing. I know from my research over the years into virtual EOCs that one of the biggest pushbacks has always been that you don’t get the benefit of being in the live EOC and hearing all the side conversations. I know when I was EOC Director, that constant hum of conversations in the room was quite often where I got a true sense of the pulse. So that part of it shouldn’t be an issue, assuming I set up the zones right. Also, I know there’s some evolving work happening around custom avatars. A lot of the virtual and gaming tools have cartoon-like avatars but there is some good work going on around humanizing avatars. From what I’ve been reading, I’m guessing we are within weeks or months of being able to take a photo on our iPhone using the Spatial app, and then having that populate the avatar. You will then be able to choose a body type, articulation of the body joints and limbs, and dress them how you like. already allows for custom avatar imports so it’s just a matter of time. Where I’d like to take this is to have one of the custom dress options be the ICS colored vest for the position that the participant has assumed for the training. I think this is very doable and I’m going to search out someone on Fiverr to see if that’s doable. More on that later when we get to it.

So until next week, thanks for your interest and curiosity in all of this. I’m having a fair amount of fun, in between regular work activities of course. I’m still trying to get my mind wrapped around the LinkedIn piece of all this. I started a page over there called DigitalEOC and I do post stuff there. Hopefully it will work and help spread the word on this project. If you want to PM me about any of this, you can do so over on that LinkedIn page. I welcome any and all guidance around this pursuit of the digital EOC.

"Innovation is the new competitive advantage"

Julie Sweet

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