From Pac Man to Public Health: Virtual Disaster Planning Technologies

Carrie Vaughan, for HealthLeaders Media , May 19, 2009

For example, Zero Hour: America's Medic is a single-player game designed to give EMT/Paramedics the chance to test their skills in response to four different scenarios—a SARS-like pandemic, earthquake, a derailment with chemical leak, and a sports complex explosion. The game, designed by George Washington University, provides first responders the opportunity to practice and refine their skills in four key areas: CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives) detection, triage, information collection and threat recognition, and information sharing and collaboration. Players encounter different patients, scene hazards, and have different resources to call upon each time they play the game.

The Stanford University Medical Media and Instructional Technology group has also developed "virtual worlds" in which the patient, the clinical facility, and all personnel are represented as an avatar on the screen. Stanford's 3-D virtual ED, for example, can help train medical students and residents in different trauma scenarios.

Similarly, Noblis researchers developed HotZone, a game that allows first responders to react to a chemical and explosive attack in a virtual shopping mall. The game includes data extraction technology, which can be analyzed to see which strategy saved the most lives.

"One team did the exercise in 20 minutes and had zero fatalities and another took 30 minutes longer and had five fatalities," Breslin says. "The real value is having 50 people playing their roles in an event, looking at same scenario, making their own decision, and seeing how it might impact someone else," he says.

The benefit of this type of gaming technology is organizations can run drills over and over again and evaluate the data to see what strategies have the best results. "That is too cost prohibitive in manual events." Breslin says.

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Carrie Vaughan is a senior editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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