No training can fully prepare emergency responders for a disaster or mass shooting, but coaching, hands-on training and virtual reality experiences can improve responses.

That was the goal of classes and training in a first-ever public safety forum at Shenandoah University on. The forum was attended by area firefighters, paramedics, police and other officials. It was run by the university’s newly formed Emergency Preparedness and Instruction Center (EPIC) in conjunction with the Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning.

The forum included lectures on better coordination between fire, police and medical personnel after a bombing or mass shooting, and “stop the bleed” training involving the use of gauze with chemicals designed to clot wounds.

There was also virtual reality training. The virtual reality experiences involved a mass shooter at a school and an inside-the-body experience where users could see inside vital organs that would be damaged in a shooting.

A live scenario involved Crisis Intervention Training in which participants tried to help a lost person with dementia. They then watched video of themselves taken during the scenario to critique what they did right and wrong.

James “J.J.” Ruscella, Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning. executive director, said the goal of virtual reality scenarios is creating as “visceral” an experience as possible. Ruscella said he’s aware that many agencies are cash-strapped and his organization will help them apply for grants for training.

“[Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning] is here to be a tool for the community,” Ruscella told participants. “We want to help in any way we can.”

Mass shootings — defined by the FBI as when four or more people are killed, are on the rise in the U.S. — but are still relatively rare. There were about 200 between 2000 and 2015, according to the FBI.

Matthew Watson, EPIC program director, said because mass shootings are rare, they’re difficult to train for. Watson said a lack of training can be deadly. He compared it to a quarterback playing in the Super Bowl after just one practice session.

“Anyone who knows anything about sports knows you practice, practice, practice,” said Watson, a former U.S. Army combat medic who is now a State Department security contractor with experience in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. “But we don’t have that same commitment, whether it’s law enforcement, fire or emergency management, because it always comes down to money and time.”

Watson said, the virtual reality headsets only cost $200. Training for scenarios police regularly encounter, such as dealing with mentally ill people in crisis, can be done in 20-minute sessions to help officers deal with unfamiliar behavior.

“We want to introduce you to these variables in a controlled environment so then when you face them in the street, it’s not the first time,” he said. “You already have developed a plan of action so hopefully then, your choices are the right choices and the outcome is positive.”

Source: Winchester Star