ACADEMICS from the University of Winchester are investigating how virtual reality (VR) can help prepare emergency responders for stressful events.

Emergency services such as the police and ambulance services already use training scenarios designed to improve situational awareness, but in a real-life crisis 'decision inertia', the inclination to stick to an existing plan even when better alternatives emerge, can kick in.

In an emergency, this can lead to delayed action and a failure to deploy resources where they are needed most.

Hampshire Chronicle: Brandon May and Selina Robinson with their VR equipmentBrandon May and Selina Robinson with their VR equipment (Image: University of Winchester)Training with VR allows first responders to practice critical decision-making during a crisis scenario played out in a simulated environment. This can reduce errors in real life helping to protect the public and emergency services personnel.

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Selina Robinson, senior lecturer and programme leader for forensic investigation, and Brandon May, criminology lecturer at Winchester, have been working with the University of Portsmouth to look at ways VR technology can provide realistic 3D simulations of real situations.

The project has come out of work Selina did with the merchant maritime sector. She said: “Virtual Reality is not a recent development in the training field. However, we are interested in investigating its potential application by leveraging its psychological aspects.

“Virtual Reality has demonstrated effectiveness in facilitating the acquisition of intuitive knowledge that can be seamlessly applied in real-world situations.”

Brandon added: “We want to create complex scenarios in a safe place, but which recreate the same emotional response as a real-life crisis. Training in these immersive settings can create resilience.”

The team is also looking at how to make the technology more affordable.

Brandon and Selina have been developing proof of concept designs for portable VR systems that can fit on a desktop, using a laptop, which they believe are as good as the more expensive versions currently on the market.

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This will open up possibilities for the broader adoption of VR in emergency response training, making it more accessible for agencies and organisations with tight budgets.

The team from Winchester is also collaborating with partners from the University of Portsmouth to create novel VR simulations for training and teaching purposes with their police cohorts.

Selina and Brandon have recently set up a Digital Technological Research and Knowledge Hub at Winchester where they can continue to test their system.

At present the system has been tested on students on the University’s policing course.