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Ohio professors bring virtual reality training to first responders

OSU professors and members of the South Central Ambulance District tested VR technology in a MCI scenario

By Connor Ball
Star Beacon

ROME, Ohio — A virtual-reality training technique was introduced to the South Central Ambulance District by Ohio State University representatives to help first responders react to mass-casualty events.

A simulation of a subway bombing, a training scenario designed by Ohio State University Professor Doug Danforth and Clinical Professor Nicholas Kman, was devised to teach first responders how to react in low-frequency, high-stakes events.

Partnering with the OSUy Advanced Computing Center for Arts and Design, and the College of Medicine, the artificial intelligence in the program allows trainees to give commands, ask questions and receive realistic feedback from victims that is consistent with their condition.

“This is new training for us. VR has not been out that long,” said SCAD EMS/Fire Chief Shaun Buehner.

Participants are equipped with the 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.

“We picked a subway platform because patients would have a wider variety of injuries,” Danforth said. “It’s really hard to train people to Triage and respond to mass casualty events.

“Typically what we’ll do is hire actors or use mannequins and dress them up or put makeup on them to make it look like they have a variety of injuries. Then we’ll have our trainees either paramedics, EMTs, sometimes our students, our residents and they will go around and take care of those patients. It takes a lot of manpower and resources so we can only do it once a year.”

According to Danforth, OSU has been doing this new training for well over a year now and have trained around 4 to 5 hundred people so far.

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SCAD is focusing on this training for mass-casualty events in case of an active shooter situation either in a school or factory, and anything that would have more patients than they are able to handle and would need outside resources.

This gives them the training to identify patients as either critical or non-critical. The method termed SALT (sort, assess, life-saving interventions, treatment and/or transport) triage.

“It took a little to get used to, because you go outside of this room and you’re now in this subway,” Buehner said. “You’re treating the patient trying to dictate whether or not they’re somebody you want to be taking to the hospital.”

While watching the simulation on a TV screen, victims in the subway could be heard calling out for help as the first responder wearing the headset used the VR controllers to approach them. The responder knelt down and opened their virtual bag with their tools, all while interacting directly with the victim. The victim would then get a colored tag after being treated.

“I thought it was good training,” said first responder Andrew Young. “We can only do so much in normal training and actually being able to see and move around and look at injuries, albeit virtual, I think it’s beneficial.”

“It was neat being able to actually visualize everything,” said first responder Alexis Hungerford. “Usually when we’re doing training we’re just told something about our patients and can’t see anything so it’s cool to be able to see everything and be able to actually treat it.”

OSU is continuing to get feedback on the training. Danforth wants to continue the research and see how training efforts can be improved.

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