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Virtual Reality: From Gaming Tech to Emergency Response Training

24.11.2021

Virtual Reality: From Gaming Tech to Emergency Response Training

Whereas in video games, you get a second and even third chance to complete a mission, in real-life emergencies, there’s no replay button if something goes wrong. To enhance preparedness and critical thinking skills under pressure, emergency services organizations have used VR to redesign their emergency response training programs. 

Apart from combining the four major learning styles (visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic), virtual reality experiences enable emergency responders to take part in training scenarios that realistically mimic real-world crises and improve their skills through hands-on learning. And this is achieved at a small fraction of the cost and time required to arrange a traditional training session.

In this article, we’re going to present how VR evolved from being a tool primarily used for developing engaging game environments to being implemented into first responder training to increase speed and accuracy when dealing with emergencies and ultimately save more lives.

There’s more to VR than meets the eye

Who doesn’t love a good Beat Saber or Population: ONE VR gaming session? However, that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and leveraging the full potential of this highly immersive technology. 

In a nutshell, VR allows users to access computer-generated virtual spaces with the help of a head-mounted display (HMD). Those virtual environments can be used to support digital transformation and experiential learning opportunities across various business areas and industries — from creating a more personalized onboarding experience for today’s remote workforce to helping new employees practice their soft skills by interacting with realistic avatars and, last but not least, enabling first responders to better handle unique emergencies through high-fidelity, customizable virtual scenarios.

But what exactly makes VR technology a valuable tool when it comes to preparing for life and death situations? To find out the answer to this question, let’s explore together the main benefits of VR training

How can VR training help emergency responders save lives?

Paramedics approaching an accident scene

Regardless of whether they’re a paramedic, a firefighter, or a police officer, a first responder’s job is nothing but unpredictable. 

So it’s not surprising that replicating an emergency scenario in real life can take months of planning, a tremendous logistical effort to coordinate a myriad of details, and high costs when it comes to hiring experienced instructors to assess the trainees. And that’s just one scenario.

The good news is that new technologies such as virtual reality come to knock down those barriers and help emergency services teams train more frequently and cost-effectively in a low-risk virtual space. Continue reading to discover the opportunities VR training brings to the table. 

Create a safe training environment for first responders

Virtual reality provides trainees with an immersive 3D simulation where they can practice their skills in highly stressful situations and learn from their mistakes without harming themselves or putting another person’s life in danger.

In other words, first responder trainees can go through a scenario as many times as they need to until they can successfully follow procedures and complete their tasks. This way, applying the right techniques in the right situation at the right moment becomes second nature. 

Mitigate the negative effects of high-stress exposure on mental health

Generally, emergency responders have to handle traumatic events while pushing for the best outcome for all people involved. And doing that can take a real toll on their mental health if they’re inexperienced, thus leading to burnout, anxiety, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder.

VR training can help trainers gradually desensitize emergency services trainees to common stressors they might encounter when responding to a real-life call through repeated and controlled exposure to high-stress scenarios. Moreover, trainers can closely monitor each trainee’s stress reactions and the emotional status during training sessions so that they can recognize and address early symptoms of mental health issues on time. 

Virtually recreate a wide range of realistic emergency scenarios at a low cost

Some scenarios are more common than others. Nevertheless, being familiarized with unique situations such as mass casualty incidents or pediatric calls ensures that first responders will be prepared to face those challenges without having previously experienced them. 

While organizing such a training session in a physical setting is costly and time-consuming, virtual reality can immerse trainees in a large variety of authentic emergency scenarios with the help of only a VR headset, a pair of controllers/ haptic gloves, and a customized app (we’ll be happy to help you with that). 

Provide immediate feedback on emergency training performance 

Unlike live simulations where instructors have to directly observe and assess each first responder trainee on a 1-1 basis in a chaotic environment, VR training automates the data capturing process and provides trainees with instant feedback on their performance.

Furthermore, the trainer can go over the trainee’s actions at specific points of the scenario using a recording of the training session and offer targeted advice to help the trainee correct their mistakes. 

How is Virtual Reality used in emergency response training? 

To help you better understand how immersive experiences can help first responders handle emergencies more efficiently, we invite you to take a look at the following VR training use cases.

Triage VR

In collaboration with doctors and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), the team of developers at Flint Tech created Triage, a VR training app that uses tailor-made scenarios to get medical trainees through all the stages of triage during a multiple casualty incident. The app’s main goal is to help inexperienced paramedics and EMTs learn how to offer first aid and correctly assess a patient’s health condition in a low-risk virtual environment.

All a trainee needs in order to ‘arrive’ at the accident scene and go through the scenario that the trainer has prepared for them is a virtual reality headset and a pair of controllers. Each scenario can be customized in terms of scenery (e.g., car accident), time of the accident (day or night), casualty number, type of casualty (different physical or mental symptoms), and patient’s complete condition. 

As in the case of a real accident, the trainee has to quickly assess the situation, perform a head-to-toe medical examination for each patient, use the resources available in the triage kit to offer the appropriate treatment, and assign them a categorization wristband depending on the severity of their injuries. 

Compared to traditional training, VR triage simulations are more realistic and engaging, driving an emotional response from the medical trainees and, at the same time, mentally preparing them for high-stake situations where they need to act fast. 

Redbox VR – Firefighter Training

The biggest challenge when it comes to training firefighters in a real-world setting is to safely and faithfully recreate the dangerous environment they work in. That’s why virtual reality applications like Redbox VR, which was developed by our team with the support of HTC, are innovative in their approach to hands-on emergency response training.

Redbox VR is a customized software and hardware training pack that enables trainee firefighters to test their abilities in a high-risk scenario without any real-world risk and build situational awareness and muscle memory. 

The trainee’s task is to extinguish a house fire at a single-family home, where crucial details such as the location and source of the fire and people in need of rescue have been previously chosen by the trainer. Also, they are equipped with a 3D printed fire nozzle and gloves using leap motion for hand tracking and are able to move freely thanks to a wireless adapter added to the HTC headset.

The VR training session is organized inside two connected containers, where the trainee firefighter and real-world props such as doors are tracked using interlinked HTC Vive base stations to create the real feeling of exploring different rooms inside the house. Other essential details, such as the right door opening technique for a room on fire, have been added to the virtual simulation to enhance the realism of the training scenario.

Police De-escalation VR Training

The Sacramento Police Department has recently introduced virtual reality technology into their training program to help officers learn how to safely and effectively de-escalate different types of confrontations and make better decisions in real-life, high-risk situations. 

This initiative is expected to prevent police brutality incidents by reducing the officers’ physiological reactions to stressful scenarios through constant repetition and helping them be calmer and more considerate in their responses.

During each training session, officers wearing wireless VR headsets and body sensors are fully immersed in custom-made, real-world scenarios that test their de-escalation and critical thinking skills under pressure. To accurately track the movements of the trainees’ arms and the use of weapons such as pistols and tasers, external base stations are placed within the training space.

As the officers work through the scenario at hand, the trainer, who sometimes even provides the voices for the characters they interact with, switches between different video streams based on the trainees’ actions to illustrate real-life consequences. 

Moreover, as each such VR training session can be easily recorded, officers can receive instant feedback on their performance and use the instructor’s advice to achieve better outcomes next time — be that in the simulation or when responding to a call.

Advancing public safety with Virtual Reality experiences

There’s a good reason why we call first responders heroes: they're the ones who save the day by being able to think critically in high-stress scenarios, aptly defuse confrontations, and act fast in life-threatening crises. But that all that wouldn’t be possible without proper training.

Virtual reality allows emergency responders to go through a large variety of dangerous situations in a low-risk, immersive training environment while accelerating the learning curve and turning best practices into habits. 

If you’re planning to implement VR into your organization’s training program, our team of experts can help you create a customized solution that fits your specific needs. Contact us today to learn more about our services. 

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