IT Students Practice Hostage Rescue

Posted: April 28, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jonathan Goldman

The Prince William Campus was the site of a simulated hostage rescue scenario on Wednesday, April 16, as the IT 353 class, taught by Mike Lyons, conducted their semester project exercise in information defense technologies.

IT 353 focuses on the role of information technology as a tool for warfare and civil defense. Each semester includes a project culminating in a scenario that demonstrates the students’ mastery of the skills learned during the course.

This year’s project involved the simulated kidnapping of a group of beauty pageant contestants and officials by a radical terrorist group that held them hostage in a politically unstable, but neutral country.

As part of the exercise, the students created a news web site, filmed the “beauty pageant” (dolls walking across a stage), made a video of the terrorist group’s leader (another doll wearing a military outfit and mask) and held a news conference to discuss the events.

A hostage village with dolls
Students set up a scale model “hostage village” on the Prince William Campus soccer field.
Photo by Charles Snow

The students erected a scale model village on the soccer field with a communications tower and other facilities. The real action began when the “government” group sent in a robotic reconnaissance device that sent back a live video of the site. Students in the upstairs control room tracked the robot’s progress using GPS data to superimpose its location on a satellite photo.

In keeping with the theme of IT defense, the terrorists jammed some of the transmissions and prevented the robot from sending back complete information. Despite the jamming, the “good guys” located the terrorists’ headquarters and called for a missile strike to destroy it.

Unfortunately, the missing information and a focus on only the most obvious surveillance location led to the mission failure. The government group’s attempt to send in a rescue helicopter for the hostages ended in disaster because it was knocked out of the air by an attack from an unidentified antiaircraft emplacement.

Students working on IT project
Students in IT 353 learned that technology is a useful tool — up to a point.
Photo by Charles Snow

The students who participated in the exercise, as well as those in other classes who observed it, agreed that the entire adventure was fascinating and a great opportunity to apply their in-class learning to a real-world scenario.

Professor Lyons agreed: “Although the military mission was a failure, the exercise was a great success from an academic viewpoint. The students learned many valuable lessons, including the danger of overreliance on technology.”

The Applied Information Technology Department in the Volgenau School offers many programs with similar real-world applications of technology. More information can be found at ait.gmu.edu.

Dolls used in class exercise
The students used dolls for the “beauty pageant contestants” who became hostages.
Photo by Jonathan Goldman

Write to at