There is an ever-increasing demand for training programs that will accurately simulate active shooter situations in schools from start to finish. This year alone has already seen 23 different school shootings take place, in which at least one individual was either killed or seriously injured.
Furthermore, FBI statistics reveal that the United States has experienced a total of 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013. It is becoming increasingly clear that police and schools need to be better prepared for these types of situations. Over the past decade, numerous training programs and systems have been investigated to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of responses to active shooter situations. In other words, responses need to happen at a much quicker pace, and the number of casualties needs to be significantly reduced.
Why Active Shooter Training Programs & Systems Often Fail
Despite the fact that numerous training systems and acronyms have arisen to provide law enforcement and school administrations with a framework for handling these responses, there are often gaps that leave these same systems vulnerable to failure.
Lack of Flexibility
A common criticism of training programs is that they are often too inflexible and rigid in their approach. Michael Dom, executive director of the non-profit organization Safe Havens, notes that school shooters are increasingly engaging in new tactics that aim to thwart rehearsed preparation plans.
Dom advocates for “scenario-based” training that explicitly educates teachers and students on how to react when deviating from the plan becomes necessary. This would allow staff and students to be flexible in their approach instead of being locked into “options-based” approaches.
Lack of Consistent Information Between Schools & Law Enforcement
While law enforcement officials continually receive training that allows them to effectively respond to active shooter situations, schools are not receiving this same level of education. To make matters worse, schools do not always cooperate alongside local police offers while developing their active shooter preparation plans.
This creates a lack of uniform understanding between both parties, leading to unnecessary confusion and a less effective emergency response. The same can be said for training systems where faculty and staff are receiving different information from the students themselves.
In order to alleviate this issue, training should be standardized to ensure that all affected parties are on the same page, while following the same framework. This will reduce casualties (if any), while allowing for law enforcement to apprehend the shooter much faster.
The “Virtual Reality” Difference That Saves Lives
A 2013 paper published in PLOS Current Disasters provides a strong rationale for why virtual reality (VR) is a superior option for reality-based disaster preparedness and response training. Many of advantages offered by VR technology are especially relevant to active shooter situations:
One of the major drawbacks with traditional training programs is that they are lacking the psychological element associated with shooter situations. Not only are participants experiencing high levels of stress, but there is an element of danger that can significantly hinder one’s ability to make poor decisions.
Additionally, even with practiced responses, one’s state of mind during an unfamiliar emergency situation can lead to the “degradation of even routinely practiced skills”.
Due to the immersive nature of VR, participants can experience an event that is far closer to the “real thing”. They will have to deal with the loud noises and visual distractions while interacting with their environment. There will be large crowds of people chaotically moving around within the school building, which inevitably has to be dealt with in some fashion.
Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to rewind and replay several smaller scenarios within an overall active shooter response. Schools will be able to work through scenarios alongside students at an appropriate pace that allows for full familiarity with each and every part of the response. This also provides participants with the ability to practice the appropriate steps to take when unexpected events occur.
Finally, VR’s interactive nature allows for audio and text-based communication between teachers, students and law enforcement officials. Having this feature available will result in effective dialogue and a more efficient emergency response overall.
Last but certainly not least, VR-based active shooter training programs can be individualized for a particular organization’s layout. One major barrier in developing one-size-fits-all response programs is that schools are fundamentally different when it comes to their architectural design.
Thanks to advances in 3D modelling, alongside VR developments, school faculty and staff will be able to develop and refine an active shooter response within the confines of their own building. This reduces confusion during the actual event and eliminates the “need” to remember where one is supposed to go (or what to do, for that matter). Coupled with other technologies such as mobile panic button apps, this can truly expedite emergency response.
The Future Of Virtual Reality In Improving Active Shooter Responses
VR technology is being abundantly developed and used by multiple schools and entities, and for good reason. There is naturally a higher demand for an alternative training solution which seeks to accurately simulate all aspects of an active school shooting incident.
Future directions will include generating more meaningful results (lower casualty rate, lowered incident of shootings, etc.) that validate the effectiveness of VR training programs, and creating cost-effective, customizable solutions that are accessible for all school departments no matter their budget size or location.
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