New virtual reality technology prepares first responders to respond to mass casualty disasters

Trainees are immersed in a realistic scenario where they can interact with and treat victims

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – In a mass casualty disaster, every second counts. Unfortunately, these tragedies are happening with greater frequency, with the FBI reporting a nearly 100% increase in active shooter incidents since 2017. First responders are trained to quickly assess the situation, triage victims and administer life-saving care in chaotic situations. But recreating these scenarios can be difficult and has traditionally required extensive resources, time and space. Now, a new virtual reality program developed by emergency physicians and researchers at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in collaboration with Ohio State’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design makes this critical training as simple as putting on a headset.

“It’s very important for first responders, law enforcement, and physicians to be able to go into a scene, do hemorrhage control, and triage victims to determine who needs medical care first,” said Dr. Nicholas Kman, professor of emergency medicine at Ohio State College of Medicine. “Our high-fidelity program is designed to look very realistic, and once you put that headset on you are immersed into a scenario where you can move around, interact with victims, and make life-saving decisions.”

The program can be customized, varying the number of victims, their injuries, and distractions like smoke and noise. Artificial intelligence allows trainees to give commands and ask questions and receive realistic feedback from victims that is consistent with their condition. They are also equipped with tools needed to treat life-threatening injuries, such as tourniquets and wound packing, as well as triage tags to prioritize care when more help arrives. 

“Features of the program allow trainees to move naturally and complete tasks just as they would on a real call. For example, the controllers are equipped with haptics that vibrate when the user takes a patient’s pulse so their heart rate can be accurately recorded,” Kman said. “This hands-on type of training also helps with information retention so first responders can recall what they’ve learned when it matters most.”

Following each training session, the program immediately produces an assessment on things like asking the right questions, sorting patients correctly and administering care. Kman says almost everyone they’ve worked with has wanted to go right back in to improve their performance. The program is already in use in several community EMS and fire departments and is quickly expanding across the country.

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Paramedic Joshua Cooper participates in virtual reality mass casualty training at Delaware County EMS. The program was developed by emergency medicine physicians, researchers, VR developers, and designers at Ohio State and immerses trainees in realistic scenarios where they can interact with and treat victims to save as many lives as possible.

A new virtual reality program developed at The Ohio State University College of Medicine simulates a mass casualty disaster to prepare first responders to assess the scene, triage victims and administer life-saving medical care.

Dr. Nicholas Kman (left), a professor of emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, discusses an assessment of a virtual reality mass casualty training session with paramedic Joshua Cooper. The program was developed at Ohio State to help first responders prepare for disasters and save as many lives as possible.

Paramedic Joshua Cooper undergoes mass casualty disaster training using new virtual reality technology. The program allows trainees to move around the scene, assess and sort victims, and administer life-saving care.

Paramedic Joshua Cooper puts on a virtual reality headset to begin mass casualty preparedness training. The new technology immerses trainees into a realistic scenario with multiple victims so they will be prepared to act quickly and confidently when disaster strikes.

In a mass casualty disaster, the quick action of first responders is often the difference between life and death. A new virtual reality training program developed at Ohio State allows first responders to train in realistic scenarios using a VR headset, preparing them to save as many lives as possible if tragedy strikes close to home.

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