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[Active Shooting Preparation for Teachers using Virtual Reality]

Feb 2018

Active Shooting Preparation for Teachers using Virtual Reality

The US Army and the Department of Homeland Security are designing a simulation of school shooting situations for teachers. Multiple players take the role of a teacher trying to keep students safe during a shooting; a law enforcement officer trying to apprehend the shooter; and the shooter, whose avatar may be that of an adult or a child. It’s a grim project, but one that the creators hope will help teachers stay calm in a real emergency.

The project is based on a multipurpose Homeland Security simulator called the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment, or EDGE. A mass-shooting scenario for first responders launched in mid-2017, and this is supposed to launch in the spring. As Gizmodo writes, teachers in the school-specific version get prompts to do things like lock the doors and windows, and they can give students instructions like “follow me” or “find a place to hide.” Virtual children might cry or panic, and teachers listen for the direction of simulated gunshots to deduce the shooter’s location. (While Gizmodo refers to it as a virtual reality experience, a Glixel report says this isn’t the case.)

Just about every detail in the shooting simulator sounds horrifying, and some of the quotes in news reports are unsettlingly flippant; The Associated Press quotes a supportive nonprofit operator who calls it “a really cool and engaging way … to think about school safety.” An earlier EDGE press release boasts about using the same game engine that powers Mortal Kombat and BioShock.

But a Glixel interview with DHS spokesperson John Verrico helps put the program’s creepiest aspects in perspective. Verrico stresses that this won’t be released to the public, only to pre-vetted schools and first responders. The shooter character is supposed to be played by a police officer or first responder, who can act out the scenario more realistically than a programmed AI. There’s no “winning” the simulation, Verrico says, and he disputes the idea that it’s even a game. It sounds more like a virtual version of physical safety drills, made in hopes that teachers will remember some of this interactive training if they ever face a real shooter.

Still, as some people have pointed out online, it’s frustrating to see so much sophisticated engineering go toward making the best of mass shootings — while opportunities to prevent them altogether, like letting the CDC fund studies about gun violence, get left on the table.




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