Book Review: Overlook

Chapter 5, Practice Land, Places Playing Places, surveys stage-set places that appear familiar because versions of them have been used in Hollywood westerns and crime movies with car chases. The settings in these fast-moving scenes have been adapted for use in locations where land-use planners, police, firemen, and military personnel are trained to deal with emergencies.

Perhaps the best examples of these stylized versions of potentially dangerous ordinary places have been created in media-rich southern California.  In addition to crime scenes these simulated disaster sites include train wrecks, hazardous material spills, fires, and riots.

The Los Angeles Police Department Academy in Elysian Park has one of the earliest examples of a situation-simulation, or sit-sim, village. Its Tactical Training Center has sets like the alley shown below where corridors end at fixed and moving targets, and live ammunition is directed at them.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s realistic simulated training centers was built as a laser village in the 1980s. Practice weapons emitted a laser light, and victims wore vests that electronically determined the approximate strike of the beam. Later on, small pellets filled with dye replaced the beams.

The simulated downtown in the Orange County Tactical training Center

The Los Angeles County Fire Department operates five training sites, of which the Del Valle site near Castaic is the largest and most diversified in the Los Angeles region. A major focus of Del Valle is technical rescue training. There are sites with props used to stage bus accidents and various kinds of urban search-and-rescue training facilities. A hazardous material training area even has railcars and a chemical storage building.

The North Net Fire Training Tower

The North Net Fire Training Center in Anaheim is used by fire departments from southern California and outside the state. Its main feature is a five-story concrete tower, shown above, that uses propane in simulated fires and has ladder and rope rescue training. Wrecked vehicles, which are delivered to the site, are used for victim extraction training.

Wrecked vehicles used for victim extraction training

Sites for specialized training address emergencies such as leaking tanker cars on rail lines.  There is even an elaborate simulated methamphetamine lab.

8 Responses

  1. Barbara Seaton says:

    You help keep me wide-eyed.

  2. J. Ware says:

    I read with great interest your book review of Overlook. The American Landscape or rather how we as Americans have chosen to deal with it has always fascinated me. This is a little off topic, but as a civil engineer I am always amazed at the audacity that we have to make such grand interventions on the land – civil indeed. I know civil or civil works came about as contrasted to a war or defense engineer, but in our modern age our intentions and their impacts need to be constantly questioned and fully understood.

  3. Thank you for mentioning the Museum of Jurassic Technology! I was tempted to write about it, because it is next door to the CLUI in Culver City. But it has a different agenda and merits a post of its own.

    Those who don’t know about this unique public institution, may go to the Wikipedia website for a detailed history and look at other websites to read the visitors’ reviews.


  4. Thank you for mentioning the Museum of Jurassic Technology! I was tempted to write about it, because it is next door to the CLUI in Culver City. But it has a different agenda and merits a post of its own. If you want to learn more about this unique public institution, Go to its website and read the visitors’ reviews.


  5. L. Ogden says:

    Fascinating! Did you consider mentioning another “treasure trove of the little known”, CLUI’s neighbor in Los Angeles (Culver City), the Museum of Jurassic Technology?

  6. My thanks to Dan Gregory and Jay Claiborne for comments that extend the scope of my review by directing attention to other writers who have looked at our land with discerning eyes and written books worth re-reading.


  7. Great review that I almost wish I hadn’t read because I now want the book and the monk’s shelf says, so now who has to go. Don’t worry Jackson, Banham, McPhee, Pollen, Papa Lynch, you juar may have a new friend. This review made me pull a lesser known work on that shelf called Topophilia by Yi-Fu Tuan which I continue to re-read for the insights she provides on the interaction between the physical world, culture and biology. Overlook seems to illustrate what Yi-Fu Tuan explains so clearly.
    Once again, Sally, you have gotten me into trouble. I want it.

  8. Wow, Sally — this is the greatest eye-opener of a review and I can’t wait to get the book! The Overlook project brings to mind the interpretive landscape writings of J. B. Jackson, Reyner Banham, and John McPhee. Fascinating to learn about the design esthetic of “show caves”; “drowned towns”; and “sit sim villages” developed for training exercises. I love the sign that says “Absolutely Nothing Next 22 Miles”. There is everything in this subject. Bravo!

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