1st Jul, 2022

Coventry University Simulator is helping respondents train for emergencies

Ryan Smith 31st Mar, 2022 Updated: 31st Mar, 2022

A SIMULATION Centre at Coventry University is enabling emergency respondents to learn how to  keep people safe at major events and how to better manage incidents.

The centre creates realistic virtual reality emergency response scenarios so that local services can practice for events such as Coventry’s UK City of Culture celebrations.

Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire councils have also utilised the facility.

The main interactive area of the facility has a 10-metre, 160- degree curved screen, surround sound, as well as temperature regulation to simulate outdoor conditions. The room also features smoke, lighting and smell effects to create a more life like scenario.

James Doyle, simulation centre manager from Coventry University, said: “What we’ve found from facilitating these sessions is that people don’t behave as though it’s training. The situations are so immersive, delegates forget they’re being assessed and act more naturally as they are being observed remotely.”

To help run and assess the sessions, there are nine break-out rooms and a remote observation and control room, as well as CCTV and audio recording throughout the centre. Emergency service workers report to the control room throughout each simulation, and the scene changes in real time depending on how the workers react to the incident.

Creating virtual scenarios usually take a team of experts between two days and six months from the conceptual stage, with generic environments such as sports stadiums and shopping centres taking significantly less time to simulate than recreating real life locations.

A recently simulated scenario featured a car race on Coventry ring road. In the scenario, an electric car carrying protesters gains access to the road, causing one of the racing cars to crash and injure spectators.

Emergency workers are overcome by fumes as they attempt to help the victims.

To help to bring the scenario to life, actors play out the roles of distressed relatives, angry protesters and anyone else emergency service workers might come across in a real life incident.

The main aims of these virtual sessions are to assess the teamwork of the front line respondents as well as to see how well the control rooms communicate with them.

Station Manager Samantha Lewis, from West Midlands Fire Service, said: “The virtual reality scenarios provide a safe but extremely realistic training environment. They complement the many exercises we already stage throughout the year. It’s all about us learning from each other as well as reviewing, developing and evolving how we respond.”

Kerry Blakeman from West Midlands Police added: “All of the classroom training in the world can’t prepare you for what it’s really like in the middle of a major emergency.

“Lives depend on how well the emergency services work together in difficult, dangerous and highly stressful situations.

“This virtual world allows us to test our well-rehearsed plans in a safe but realistic environment, where we can identify important lessons.”

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