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Software sets the scene for crisis training

COMPUTER software that can write short stories in the style of Barbara Cartland is being used to simulate major catastrophes for the European chemical industry.

A firm in St Albans, Hertfordshire, has produced scenarios for large companies, which are far more frightening than conventional virtual reality.

Any large company in a business where catastrophes might occur has crisis management groups in readiness. But no one knows what these groups would be worth in a crisis. PRD, a consultancy in industrial psychology, sets out to train them.

Steve Blenkinghorn, managing director of PRD, says that the idea is not to simulate the view of a disaster that any onlookers would have, but the view which the executives would have - confused, partial, and mostly in their own imaginations.

A single run of the software can go on for two or three days, as in a real emergency, and the realism is in the story lines that the software generates. The broad lines of the disaster are fixed, but every time the simulation is run, much of the detail changes.

The software will also generate news reports done with synthesised voices, urgent telephone calls from the scene of the disaster, and requests for action from subsidiaries.