Virtual reality training tool pits emergency rescue teams against computerized terrorist attack

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-- 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. Soon emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters may be able to practice responding to such attacks using a virtual reality (VR) training tool under development at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia computer scientists have combined seven years of virtual reality research into BioSimMER, 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.

BioSimMER can help emergency personnel make better decisions if ever they are called on to respond in a real chem-bio attack, says project leader Sharon Stansfield.

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

Saving "cyber casualties"

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.

The researchers worked closely with Dr. Annette Sobel, a Sandia physician and researcher, to create "cyber casualties" with realistic symptoms and real-time changes in their conditions. One virtual casualty has a visible chest wound. Another has symptoms that indicate head trauma. Another suffers from inhalation of Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), the airborne bio agent used in the simulation. And a fourth appears to exhibit the

Contact: John German
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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