Virtual Reality Could Make Disaster Response Training More Effective

Firefighters battle a gas main blaze on Geary Blvd. in San Francisco's Richmond District in February.

Firefighters battle a gas main blaze on Geary Blvd. in San Francisco's Richmond District in February. Colloidial/Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

In early tests of its augmented reality training software, a Texas-based company made first responders perform faster and more accurately.

When it comes to emergency response, organizations want training sessions to mimic real-life scenarios and take place far more often than the crises themselves.

But at emergency management agencies today, first responders receive much of their training in the classroom, and when they do test their skills in the field, the simulations are usually expensive, rehearsed and infrequent.

The government of Austin, Texas, recently found virtual and augmented reality could offer a way to cheaply up the number of training sessions available to first responders and expose them to a wider array of situations they may face in the line of duty. Early tests also suggest the tech could improve responders speed and accuracy when real-world disaster strikes.

The city last year partnered with Augmented Training Systems to build an augmented reality model of its AmBus, an oversized ambulance created for particularly devastating emergencies, and allowed responders to virtually explore the vehicle. Participants were later asked to locate particular items and rehearse various scenarios in the real AmBus.

People who trained on the digital model were 45 percent more accurate and nearly 30 percent faster in performing the real-life tasks than those who only received traditional classroom training, according to Texas State University Associate Professor Scott Smith, who also serves Augmented Reality Systems’ chief executive. Today, Austin officials are finalizing a five-year contract with the company to annually train some 200 new responders and investing some $100,000 in developing similar programs for triage and hazmat scenarios, Smith told Nextgov.

The AmBus program would come at roughly half the price Austin pays annually for traditional training, he said.

According to Smith, the potential benefits of virtual reality training go far beyond cost savings.

“I think that's the basic premise of it—providing a context where people can perform … in a safe space where you can manipulate things, offer a number of variations of learning, offer a number of feedback options,” said Smith. “[Disaster] events are not going to slow down, and we really need to become more prepared for them. A Powerpoint presentation can't cover that.”

Beyond its work with Austin, Augmented Training Systems is developing digital training software for construction zones and active shooter situations, but Smith said the tech could potentially be used to train for wildfires, hurricanes and other disaster scenarios.

On the federal level, he said the Homeland Security Department could use the tech to bring a more standardized, data-driven approach to its myriad emergency response efforts.

Today, he said, the agency’s strategies are largely informed by data collected through after-action reports, but that information can often be skewed the biases that come with self-reported data. Through simulated trainings, officials can explore how people are most prone to respond in certain situations and create new best practices and strategies accordingly.

“Let's say over 50 times, people respond in a certain way,” he said. You can “create procedures around best practices in that space ... whereas now we're waiting for a [live] event to occur to make policy.”

Still, the tech wouldn’t entirely replace more theory-heavy training programs, according to Smith. There are still benefits to learning in a classroom environment and putting those skills into practice in real-world demonstrations, he said.

“I believe we can equip and understand more about what a first responder needs in those spaces with this type of technology,” he said. “I think VR, AR and real-time data processing [are] only meant to enhance current functioning.”

On March 10, Smith will present the tech to a panel of mayors in a $10,000 pitch competition at SXSW.

Jack Corrigan is a Staff Correspondent at Nextgov, which originally published this article. 

NEXT STORY: This Winter Really Was Exceptionally Rainy and Snowy

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.