After GKS engineers completed the long-range scanning, the scan data was used by Valador to create the architectural structure of the compound. Source: GKS Global Services/Laser Design Inc.

Each year in May, the Mock Prison Riot Training Event is held at the West Virginia Penitentiary, a decommissioned prison built in 1876, in Moundsville, WV. The rest of the year the prison serves as a museum with a small custodial staff.

As the springtime event rolls around, the staff is inundated with questions from the corrections professionals who plan the training activities about the dimensions and locations of various areas in the facility. Unfortunately, no detailed drawings, blueprints or computer-aided design (CAD) models exist of the prison. Because all that exists are a few rudimentary floor plans, staff members have had to manually measure rooms, equipment and other landmark locations with tape measures. This was very time-consuming, incomplete and, in the end, not very accurate.

The Moundsville staff knew there must be a better way to provide this information to the teams, which led them to Valador (Herndon, VA) for the solution. Valador designs and builds information architectures for strategic planning, engineering, analysis and management of complex systems, with services that include visual and model simulations using game engine technology. This idea was late in coming, just 60 days before the Mock Prison Riot event deadline. The idea was to use 3-D scan data to create a model of each area involved and use it for developing an interactive environment for new recruits and repeat attendees alike. The professionals brush up on skills in how to handle any type of situation that may occur throughout the prison. Having all areas well documented means that prison employees would know about every access point, defensible area and hidden corner. That awareness would serve to make them better prepared to safely handle not only normal prison activities, but also any emergency that might arise.

Valador had used CAD data in the past to create a real-time environment of 80,000 square feet. The prison scenario promised to be over 2 million square feet. Obviously, manually measuring every space and feature of the prison, even with all Valador’s personnel resources on call, was not a viable option.

Process & Technology

Valador turned to GKS (Los Angeles, CA) for its competency in gathering geo-spatial data of large-scale areas. GKS was called in to provide the true-to-life, full-scale 3-D data of every area. GKS engineers proceeded with the laser scanning of the main cellblocks, the infirmary, the cafeteria, office spaces and the apartment for the night guard. Because the laser functions even in the dark, the long-range laser scanner was even able to scan the basement area, which had never been mapped or visualized before because lighting was very limited.

Long-range laser scanning is a ground-based technique for collecting high-density 3-D data to create digital models of large, complex entities. It can be used for both the interiors and exteriors of structures. Using the highly accurate 3-D scan data generated with long-range laser scanning, engineers and designers can create CAD models of actual site conditions by processing the scan data into universally usable CAD models.

The large-scale laser scanners work by projecting a laser beam onto an angled rotating mirror that reflects the beam to the object being scanned. The unit scans 360 degrees in a horizontal plane and 320 degrees in a vertical plane, so that the net effect is that everything the scanner can see within a sphere with a 76-meter radius can be digitized in one setup, while maintaining an accuracy of +/- 3 millimeters or better. Many setups can be merged together to create large-scale scan scenarios.

The voluminous scan data from the prison areas were immediately downloaded to another GKS engineer who edited the data almost in real-time. The data was then assembled into a digital replica of the prison complex and a solid model was created. Scanning the entire compound took about four days and the large, complex model was completed in two weeks. Following the transfer of data, Valador further optimized the model data for real-time and online use, added textures and lit the environment within the game engine.

GKS was called in to provide the true-to-life, full-scale 3-D data of every area of the prison. Source: GKS Global Services/Laser Design Inc.


After GKS engineers completed the long-range scanning, the scan data was used by Valador to create the architectural structure of the compound. The data was assembled, smoothed and modeled into a digital replica of the entire prison complex using middleware to translate the files.

The project required the environments to be as realistic as possible. The Valador design team took videos of walls, floors and other elements in the prison to create credible textures, colors and lighting. Valador used a high-end software package commonly used in professional filmmaking to model the 3-D data. The models were then integrated into their game engine technology to create an interactive simulation that could allow for an avatar in the scenario.

The resulting 3-D model of the West Virginia Penitentiary allows users to virtually traverse the penitentiary environments. The advantages of having the necessary areas available in a real-time system also include the ability to take measurements and get a tactical overview of the surroundings while interacting with a to-scale representation of the prison. The trainers can plan their exercises, such as cell obstruction, riot shield training and rappelling with accurate measurements and spatial models before coming onsite.

The system is, therefore, self-service, with the capability to tag objects to obtain dimensions. For example, if a rappelling exercise from the upper level of the cellblock is planned, the trainer can measure the height and determine what length of rope is needed and what supports are available for anchoring it.

Because 2009 is the first year the model simulation has been available at the Mock Prison Riot event, it received a lot of attention. Attendees from 28 states and 14 different countries saw the Valador booth. After familiarizing themselves with the compound via the interactive model, many training exercise response times improved. Participants saw how the 3-D model could be used for many purposes, and that the realistic structural modeling, lifelike geometry and details added elements of realism and plausibility to the video gaming modality.

GKS Global Services/Laser Design Inc.
(952) 884-9648