Using software designed for the development of video games, the United States Army and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are creating a computer simulation to train teachers on how to respond during active shooter scenarios.
“With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them,” Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer on the project, told Gizmodo. “Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality. And so we want to give them that chance to understand what options are available to them and what might work well for them.”
The simulation is part of the government’s Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE) program, which was originally aimed at training first responders such as police and fireman to better coordinate during hostile situations. Now, the $5.6 million program has expanded to include teachers.
“The more experience you have, the better your chances of survival are,” said Griffith. “So this allows you to practice and have multiple experiences [and] know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Players can choose from three characters: a teacher who tries to keep the children safe, a police officer who works to take out the shooter, or the actual individual going on a rampage.
That last bit about the option of being the person intent on committing mass murder has raised at least a few eyebrows, as Rolling Stone noted last week:
“For an experience built around very realistic situations involving school shootings, it’s surprising players are given the option to choose how they infiltrate a school and, more disturbingly, shoot innocent children and school workers.”
But John Verrico, Chief of Media Relations for DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, told Rolling Stone the inclusion of the shooter option is intended to give teachers insight into what the attacker might be thinking, thus allowing them to better adapt to the situation.
“We wanted to actually have real human thinking tactics,” he said. But Verrico stressed that this is “not a shooting simulator” and not a video game in the traditional sense in that there is no objective:
“There’s no winning, it’s not a real game. It’s a way to practice and evaluate actions and protocols.”
However, EDGE is based on a software framework used to create video games, as the DHS press release from last June states:
“Built on the Unreal gaming engine, which powers such popular interactive video games as Mortal Kombat, BioShock, and Batman: Arkham City, EDGE allows responders to collaboratively role-play complex scenarios in a virtual environment, improving coordination and communication while mitigating injuries and loss of lives.”
The developers of EDGE listened to real audio dispatches of past deadly shootings to try to grasp the confusion and chaos that erupts.
“It gives you chills when you’re sitting and thinking about what is happening during those tapes,” EDGE’s Griffith told the Associated Press (AP), “and how we might better prepare law enforcement and fire departments and all these people who have to deal with this.”
Also chilling, EDGE project manager Bob Walker has disclosed that the simulation allows for active shooters themselves to be children.
“Suspects can be adults or children,” Walker told AP. “Unfortunately, that’s the reality of today’s society. We have to worry about children and adults being suspects.”
The EDGE simulation is currently being used by 525 first responder agencies across 48 U.S. states, Verrico told Rolling Stone. The version adapted for teachers is expected to be available by spring of this year.
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