Army Develops VR Game to Prep Teachers for School Shootings


By Debbie Gregory.

With mass shootings sadly becoming a regular occurrence, the U.S. Army and Homeland Security are working to create a virtual reality experience they hope will help train teachers  how to react in the event of a school shooting.

It’s a grim project, but one that the creators hope will help teachers stay calm in a real emergency.

The VR experience allows role-playing, and 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.

The project is based on a multipurpose Homeland Security simulator called the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE.) In 2016, the Army and Homeland Security released a similar virtual reality experience aimed to train both fire and police departments how to handle school shooting response.

“The more experience you have, the better your chances of survival are,” said Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer for EDGE. “So this allows you to practice and have multiple experiences (and) know what works and what doesn’t work.”

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.” To create the most realistic scenario possible, EDGE engineers listened to dispatch audio from both the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings.

No one can say for sure if this technology would have saved some of the victims in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Valentine’s Day, among them teachers protecting their students.

Geography teacher Scott Beigel was killed after he unlocked his door so that he could let students inside his classroom and shelter. Assistant football coach and security guard, Aaron Feis, used his own body to shield students as gunfire rang out in the school. Athletic director Chris Hixon, a former Navy Reservist, also lost his life.

The updated virtual reality simulation aimed at teachers will be released in the spring. And unfortunately, it can’t come soon enough.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Virtual Reality Therapy Recognized as a Treatment for Trauma


By Debbie Gregory.

Re-adjusting to being a civilian can be a tough transition, especially when accompanied by insomnia, irritability and anger issues.

Clinical psychologist Skip Rizzo at the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies is using a new and unexpected way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder – with virtual reality (VR.)

According to the National Center for PTSD, some 8 million adults suffer from PTSD during a given year. PTSD can occur following a significant stressor, and often includes symptoms such as avoidance and hyper-vigilance.

One common method for treatment is called “exposure therapy.” The patient recounts their trauma, visualizing it in their imagination, and narrates it to a clinician. By repeatedly confronting and processing the trauma, the brain can start to reduce the level of anxiety and response to those memories.

Even though virtual reality itself is still a hard-to-grasp idea for most people who have not experienced it, the clinical use for VR as therapy has been generating a “rich scientific literature” for the past 20 years

That’s exactly the approach Rizzo uses with virtual reality therapy. I have been lucky enough to meet Rizzo and see his treatment in action.

“My mission is to drag psychology kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Rizzo said, noting that virtual reality offers a unique opportunity for clinicians and clients alike: to be immersed in the environment that evokes the original trauma, rather than relying on the patient’s imagination.

Rizzo has created 14 virtual worlds for patients, and clinicians can add custom elements, including helicopters, clouds, small-arms fire and missiles.

Each session lasts for about an hour and a half, and the patient speaks about their experience with a clinician as they go through the virtual simulation. Although they can never replicate an exact simulation of what the patient went through, they really don’t need to.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Do Virtual Reality Benefits Carry Any Risks?


By Debbie Gregory.

Researchers are exploring how Virtual Reality (VR) can help with everything from treating PTSD to overcoming addiction.

VR replicates an environment that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing interaction in that world. Virtual realities also artificially create sensory experiences including sight, touch, hearing, and smell.

There is, however, much that we don’t know about how the brain reacts to prolonged exposure to the new medium.

While the virtual world can help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress syndrome, there is the risk that overexposure to VR may generate its own trauma.

At the University of Southern California, pioneering VR researcher Albert “Skip” Rizzo has developed Virtual Iraq and Virtual Afghanistan VR software that is being used at dozens of VA facilities to help veterans plagued by PTSD.

In 2003, he says, he ran across a battle simulation game that the Army had helped

develop. He knew that exposure therapies had been shown to work for trauma cases.

“I said why not take this and modify this and use it as a virtual Iraq for people that come

back from the war with PTSD?” Rizzo said.

The idea is to allow patients to gradually confront their trauma through a series of

increasingly intense scenarios in the safety of a clinical setting, so that they can “unlearn the association between the stimuli and its consequences,” says Rizzo. He developed three scenarios, a sniper situation, a market place and the convoy on the highway.

“We try to address the trauma and activate a memory, and it’s hard medicine for a hard problem,” says Rizzo, the director of medical virtual reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. “But the point is to learn that the present can’t hurt you. For anyone saying that we’re re-traumatizing people, we say this is better than having them see Middle Eastern garb at a Walmart and freaking out.”

VR technology is still in its early days, and therefore so too is any research into what, if any negative affect it will have on the brain.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.