Virtual Reality Tools Help Responders Prepare for Emergencies

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Researchers nationwide are using virtual reality simulation to train first responders, medical personnel and emergency management officials for public health emergencies, Government Technology reports.

Training in Second Life

In 2006, researchers at the University of California-Davis Health System used an $80,000 grant from the California Department of Health Services to re-create a 3-D model of the California Exposition and State Fair in Second Life, an Internet-based environment in which people are represented by avatars.

The simulation exercise was used to help train staff members on how to administer antibiotics from the Strategic National Stockpile in the event of an anthrax attack.

Peter Yellowlees, principal investigator of the project and a professor of psychiatry at UC-Davis, said the virtual environment was realistic and the program received positive feedback from state employees.

However, the state has not yet expanded its use. "That was 18 months ago and they haven't taken us up on it yet," Yellowlees said, adding, "They are trying to see how it fits in their long-term goals."

Virtual Reality Triage

For several years, RTI International has been using funding from the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center to create a virtual reality simulation platform that lets physicians, nurses and paramedics practice their triage skills in a role-playing game.

The program includes 30 casualty scenarios, with users encountering a total of nine examples in any one scene.

Army medical staff have used the triage simulator at pre-deployment training on their way to Iraq. The simulator was also used in 2006 at Duke University School of Medicine to prepare medical students for disaster management.

Students who received the virtual reality-based training performed as well as, or better than, students who received traditional training, according to Robert Furberg, a research analyst at RTI's Center for Simulator Technology.

Simulators for Emergency Operation Centers

The not-for-profit Emergency Management Training, Analysis and Simulation Center in Virginia creates realistic simulations designed to help train managers to communicate effectively during an emergency.

EMTASC simulates incidents, such as a hurricane, by feeding information to emergency response managers in the same format they would receive during an emergency.

Virginia officials have used EMTASC's modeling capability, and they say users' responses have been positive (Raths, Government Technology, 3/27).


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