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Virtual Reality is Capable of Making Disaster Response Training Much More Effective

When it is about emergency response, institutions want training periods to imitate real-life situations and occur much more frequently than the disasters themselves.

Today, at emergency management organisations, 1st responders acquire most of their training inside the class, and when they try their expertise in the field, the simulations are generally costly, rehearsed, and not regular.

Recently, the government of Austin, Texas, realised that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) has the potential to offer an effective way to raise the count of training sessions that are available to first responders and introduce them to a bigger range of scenarios they might encounter in the line of duty. Previous tests also indicate that the technology could enhance the speed and accuracy of responders during a real-life crisis.

Last year, the city teamed up with Augmented Training Systems in order to develop an AR model of its larger than usual ambulance, AmBus, which has been made for critical emergencies and permitted the responders to explore the vehicle virtually. Those who participated were later instructed to find certain items and rehearse different situations in the actual AmBus.

According to Scott Smith, Associate Professor in Texas State University, those who practised on the digital model turned out to be 45% more accurate and almost 30% faster in conducting the real-world tasks than the people who were given conventional classroom training. Smith said that the officials of Austin are finalising a 5-year contract with the agency to train around 200 fresh responders annually and investing an approximate of $100,000 to build similar programmes for hazmat and triage situations.

He also said that the AmBus programme will probably be available at half of what Austin pays for the conventional training annually.


According to Smith, the effective advantages of VR training go much further than only cost savings. The technology makes way for the manipulation of training aspects – crowds, weather patterns, locations and other stressors – to mimic real-life scenarios in a better way. It is also capable of giving direct feedback, unlike many other orthodox training methods, providing details about how efficiently every participant completes various tasks over several repetitions of the programme. Smith said that this information can be used by commanders to assign the responders with roles they are good at.

Virtual Reality Mass Casualty Triage Copyright, Edbert Hsu.

Augmented Training Systems, apart from its cooperation with Austin, is creating digital training application for active shooter situations and construction zones. Smith, however, said that the technology could probably be utilised to train for hurricanes, wildfires and other crises.

He also said that on the federal level, this tech could be used by the Homeland Security Department to introduce a better quality, data-driven approach to the plethora of emergency response endeavours.

Smith added that the agency’s tactics are mostly notified by data that is collected from post-action reports, which can often be altered, as opposed to self-reported data. With simulated training, the officials will be able to understand how people generally respond in specific scenarios and develop newer and more effective strategies and practices accordingly.

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