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Crisis incident training gets virtual reality make over

An advanced video game style training system developed to help emergency service personnel prepare for crisis scenarios is set to transform its users ability to prepare for incidents.

Watch a video about the CRISIS project

An advanced video game style training system developed to help emergency service personnel prepare for crisis scenarios - such as train and plane crashes and terrorist attacks - is set to transform its users ability to prepare for incidents.
Currently emergency personnel at venues such as airports must plan costly live training exercises, but the virtual reality ‘CRISIS’ system will allow them to prepare for these incidents at the push of a button.
The Middlesex University led project presents emergency workers with a crisis situation in an interactive virtual world using a complex 3D view of the scene.  Trainees navigate through the environment and build up a situation assessment of the incident which then guides their decision making process, all the time communicating with  fellow trainees as the incident develops in front of them.
CRISIS (Critical Incident management training System using an Interactive Simulated environment) was funded by the European Commission and developed with 12 partners across Europe including airports in Portugal and Iceland who are already using the system.
The flexible programme can be used by individuals or teams within the same organisation and across different organisations, and various levels of command, in an immersive multi-player environment.  Players interact and communicate with fellow trainees inside the 3D world, regardless of their physical location.
Incidents presented have varying levels of complexity and can be created by training managers.  Using the Variable Uncertainty Framework, the scenarios can play out differently every time they are run with the system responding in different ways dependent on the trainees’ actions, with random events occurring in order to test reactions.   
Middlesex University Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and Project Coordinator Dr William Wong said: “Real crisis situations fortunately don’t occur frequently but staging training scenarios to prepare for them is costly and requires a large amount of preparation.  When you use a responsive and interactive virtual environment you can train every day and involve others in different locations. For instance airport staff in Iceland can train with colleagues while stationed in more remote parts of the country. ”
CRISIS supports three phases; planning, training and evaluation.  In the planning phase training managers can control and plan complex occurrences in the programme ranging from further explosions to the intensity of the rain falling on the accident.  Triggers can be set, so that if a trainee fails to complete a certain action it can activate a particular consequence.
The emergency services can carry out the training on laptop or desktop computers using a keyboard, joystick, games controller or tablet computer to navigate around. This is very portable and can be set up in a room or in physically removed locations and operated across a secure network. Alternatively it can be undertaken on a powerwall made up of multiple screens to give the trainee a more immersive experience.
Evaluation is of high importance in training exercises, and CRISIS allows users to get quick and detailed feedback, so they are able to analyse their performance and learn from their reactions.
Features include:
-         Planner tool enables users to create scenarios including defining conditions which set off events.  These triggers can be set by time, event-based, proximity and manual.
-         Observer tool allows an instructor to observe trainees during an exercise using a tablet computer and freely move around a training room.  On this device they can mark trainees’ performance, take photos and annotate them and make comments
-         Evaluator tool allows instructors to explore and sort the data from an exercise.  This can be viewed in a number of different formats including time lines, reports and overview maps. 
Partners in the project were Middlesex University (UK), National Aerospace Laboratory (NL), E-Semble (NL),  ObjectSecurity (UK), Space Applications Services (BE), VSL Systems (SE), Linköping University (SE), Haskoli Island (University of Iceland) (IS), AE Solutions (UK), ANA -  Aeroportos de Portugal (PT), British Transport Police (UK) and ISAVIA (IS)


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