GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- At 5 p.m., a truck carrying ammonia, a hazardous chemical, collided with a train outside of USAG Grafenwoehr Gate 3, causing an explosion. The harmful fumes from the toxic cloud injured seven people.

This was the false scenario that garrison staff tackled during a Command Post Exercise at the Joint Multinational Simulation Center at Camp Aachen, April 2.

"The purpose of the exercise is to train and refine the garrison staff throughout the BMC on how they respond to a crisis," said Steve Hood, chief of operations for Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

While full scale exercises play out in real time, with volunteers playing victims and emergency responders rushing to fabricated disasters, this CPX used JMSC for training its staff.

"We're learning things and procurements that we normally wouldn't be able to do with our full scale exercise," said Kim Alahmadi, emergency manager for the BMC. "We can do so much and actually respond to what's going on."

When the faux accident occurred, military police and fire departments in the simulation center saw the explosion on screen and the damage it inflicted. Military police responded by "driving" to the accident and firefighters from the Vilseck Fire Department monitored and mitigated the explosion on their computer screens.

Meanwhile, department heads, Soldiers and other garrison staff clustered in a nearby building. The Department of Emergency Services and MEDDAC managed the casualties; IT ensured all systems were running; and JAG reviewed the legality of the garrison's decisions.

Typically, said Hood, exercises focus on the crisis and garrison employees' immediate response to the event. But, the simulator accelerated the event's timeline so departments could rehearse both their response to the explosion and their follow-up actions in the days after the crisis.

The second half of the CPX began seven days after the chemical explosion. Environmental protesters descended on the BMC, and when joined by leftist and rightist groups, the protests turned violent.

According to Alahmadi, the best part of the simulation center is that the virtual reality allows the staff to train more realistically. With the simulator, trainees have the same options available as in an actual crisis, some of which might not exist during the full scale exercise.

In the simulator, firefighters and MPs could use a hose or tear gas on rioters -- actions they could take in real life. During a full-scale exercise, those options wouldn't exist.

"We really have a real-world ability that we wouldn't have otherwise," said Alahmadi.

The ability to respond realistically to a crisis and its aftermath forces the trainees to think broader and longer term in their emergency preparedness.

"When the crisis goes away, doing the clean up afterwards is often the hardest part," said Grafenwoehr Deputy Garrison Commander Kathy Aydt during the CPX. "What's happening next sticks with you longer than what's happening now."