First responders use virtual reality to prepare for disaster

First responders practice their disaster responses using virtual reality technology Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 at Concordia University. (KATU Photo)

Virtual reality isn’t just for video games.

At Concordia University on Thursday, homeland security experts showed off how the technology can be used to prepare for the Big One.

First responders have partnered with virtual reality groups to practice their disaster responses and demonstrate it to the public.

The idea is to have first responders wear virtual reality goggles while training so they can get the best experience of a disaster without it being the real thing.

It will “allow us to imagine the consequences, to be able to be immersed in what that’s going to look like, what kind of chaos is going to exist, and it will help us think through the best protocols of how we program our brains to know how to respond in those very bad scenarios when they actually do happen,” said Laurie Holien, director of homeland security for Concordia University.

But experts said it’s not just about virtual reality.

It’s about making sure first responders keep up with rapidly developing technology in the private sector.

"Sometimes the adoption of new technology takes a little more time within the government sector,” Holien said. “We don't want that to always be the case. We want to make sure we're not waiting until the technology is already developed before we start thinking through how we're going to utilize it."

She said when the government waits too long to incorporate technology, first responders can miss out on tools that could help them save lives.

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