The Buzz

Won't Leave Home Without 'Em

Hurricane Katrina stranded thousands of pets along with their owners. In many cases, the owners were evacuated, but forced to leave their animals behind. Captured on television, one of those wrenching separations-a young boy leaving his dog-prompted a bill that would require state and local preparedness offices to include owners and their pets and service animals in their evacuation plans, or risk losing grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The measure passed the House May 23.

"The dog was taken away from this little boy, and to watch his face was a singularly revealing and tragic experience," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., lead sponsor of the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act. A similar bill in the Senate also would permit FEMA to fund state and local animal preparedness projects, including emergency shelters.

A new disaster plan for New Orleans tested in late May permits evacuees to take pets on buses. Pending federal legislation and independent changes to local plans should solve the problem of owners refusing to leave their homes because their companion animals can't come along. The changes are needed, according to a survey released May 22 by the American Kennel Club.

AKC found that 62 percent of those polled would defy authorities and stay with pets not permitted to evacuate with them.

Sixty-one percent of AKC respondents had evacuation plans for their pets, 23 percent of them motivated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After Katrina, state and federal agencies, along with hundreds of nonprofit animal welfare groups and volunteers mounted the largest animal rescue in U.S. history.

"America's Army" Advances

The Army's multiplayer, action-packed computer game, "America's Army," was created to lure recruits to the beleaguered service. Now that the game can be played on Xbox as well as online, it's becoming an essential training tool for soldiers, too.

The Army has partnered with a number of video companies to expand the game to teach troops to use equipment being rapidly fielded in Iraq and to train them to adapt to threats as they develop. For example, a Humvee-mounted weapon system was incorporated in "Overmatch," the latest version of "America's Army," less than a year after the system appeared in Iraq.

If you've seen the movie Black Hawk Down, then you have some idea how vulnerable a Humvee's gunner is up in the turret as the vehicle careens through enemy fire on narrow, crowded streets. Exposed gunners face greater danger in Iraq, home of the ubiquitous improvised explosive device, whose shrapnel spews everywhere and hits everything and everyone left unprotected.

To reduce the threat, the Army developed the CROWS system, the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station. With a color camera, infrared camera and range finder, CROWS lets gunners using a joystick and a screen operate a heavy or medium machine gun, grenade launcher, or squad automatic weapon from inside their vehicles. As reported May 15, "Overmatch" players will be able to operate CROWS as in real life, with four soldiers using it to fire on enemies while moving or at a standstill.

The Army also has developed a number of other projects on the game's platform, among them, "Future Soldier Trainer," a portable version of "America's Army" that recruiters can set up at job fairs. It collects data from each player's session to help identify successful future soldiers. A convoy trainer lets soldiers configure groups of vehicles and tactics for scenarios such as VIP transport, pickups or drop-offs, and trying to reach a checkpoint to hand off their vehicles. The action occurs in environments ranging from rural highways to downtown urban settings. Trainees face off against artificial intelligence or other players.

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