Friday, July 6, 2007

Saving Lives with Simulations

Soon emergency medical technicians and firefighters may be able to practice responding to terrorist attacks using a virtual reality training tool under development at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories.

In the emergencies of tomorrow -- when rescue personnel may need to triage and treat mass casualties following release of a nerve agent in a shopping mall, theme park, or subway, for instance -- there will be no second chances. Rescuers who become victims of a terrorist attack can't save lives.

BioSimMER is a VR application that immerses first responders in a 3-D computer-simulated setting -- a small airport in which a biological warfare agent has been dispersed following a terrorist bombing. Simulated casualties with a variety of symptoms are found throughout the airport.

The computer simulation engages the rescuer's eyes, ears, and decision-making abilities through goggles that display the scene's images. The rescuer wears sensors on the arms, legs, and waist, allowing the player's motions to be fed back into the simulation.

"With virtual reality, you can practice over and over again, like in a video game," says project leader Sharon Stansfield. "You make mistakes, you learn. If someone dies, you can hit the reset button."

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