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Austin uses virtual reality to train first responders

The City of Austin has partnered with local start-up Augmented Training Systems to develop programmes that allow skills to be quickly refreshed, without needing the physical equipment or set-up.

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First responders benefit from just in time VR training which can be repeated when required
First responders benefit from just in time VR training which can be repeated when required

The City of Austin has partnered with local start-up Augmented Training Systems to develop two virtual reality (VR) training programmes for first responders.


The virtual reality trainings focus on “high acuity, low frequency” events that the personnel train for, but do not frequently respond to, such as mass casualty events and the use of the ambulance bus.


US Ignite grant


The development of virtual reality training began more than a year ago through a public-private partnership between the City’s Communication and Technology Management (CTM) department, ATCEMS and a grant from US Ignite, which aims to partner local governments with financial investments to serve as a catalyst for innovation for smart city services powered by new technologies.


“A first responder will get trained on these skills and then not respond to a disaster for a number of years. A ‘just-in-time’ VR training allows us to refresh those skills quickly, without needing the physical equipment or set-up. We can do the training at the station, or at home, and can repeat the training over and over,” said commander Keith Noble, of Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services (ATCEMS).


Noble added that VR training became even more relevant as the Covid-19 crisis changed the day-to-day environment.

 

“During the Covid-19 crisis, in-person events and hands-on trainings have mostly been cancelled. For first responders, it’s not an option to postpone training. We have to be ready to respond to a crisis, no matter what,” he said. “This technology is a good fit for today’s environment where we’re doing everything virtually. It’s safe and it’s effective.”

“For first responders, it’s not an option to postpone training. We have to be ready to respond to a crisis, no matter what”

CTM data architect, Ted Lehr, helped to bring the grant opportunity to EMS. “Part of my job with the City is to focus on emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence and to identify opportunities for partnerships and resources within the community. In this case, I was able to bring together researchers from Texas State University and ATCEMS using this grant opportunity to introduce VR as a training option,” he said.


Augmented Training Systems, a local start-up, was born out of the collaboration. With the support of ATCEMS, it developed two virtual trainings, a just-in-time training on the ambulance bus and mass casualty event training. These trainings focus on critical, high acuity skills for low frequency events like disaster response.


Testing during the development of the virtual reality training showed a higher recall of skills and mission-critical tasks, a reduction in errors, and a decrease in time it took to complete a task for trainees that took the virtual training versus those that took just in person training.


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