Preparing for Natural Disasters with VR
Written by: Kristi Lee
Edited by: Elliot Hu-Au
An interesting use case for virtual reality (VR) and education is the topic of educating the public about disaster preparedness. Often, due to our mental stubbornness or simple laziness, we ignore the warnings of experts and refuse to prepare ourselves for the real possibilities of a natural disaster occurring. Already one study by Tepe, Kaleci, and Tuzun (2018) has found that VR disaster training can provide long-term learning as well as motivation to learn. With this in mind, we have reviewed four VR experiences that teach about disasters in unique ways.
Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. is one of the largest reinsurance companies in the United States. To follow their goal to “explore innovative ways to help make communities safer,” the company designed and created a VR environment to educate more people. Their vision was to safely but fully allow the user to experience the power and destruction of a realistic tornado. The experience starts with a person sitting in his living room as the TV channel starts to broadcast the emergency news for a tornado.
As the tornado arrives in his area, he remains seated and watches how it affects his surroundings. He later loses the television signal and electricity as well. The audio track is filled with the sounds of wind and storms. The experience ends with him facing the horrible result of the tornado. His house is no longer there and everything is gone. While dramatic, the experience is still limited by a fairly passive experience and feels oddly unrealistic to the viewer.
ClassVR creates educational content of most subject matter and has a special category called Conflicts & Disasters. They provide real image-based VR contents about many locations that have experienced disasters. (E.g. nuclear disaster areas in Pripyat, Ukraine, Concentration camps in Poland, and images from Italy, Japan, China, USA, Hungary, and Australia.) They also include 3D resources regarding certain human conflicts. They provide a simulated experience of World War One trenches and refugee camps in Greece. These can be great resources to create awareness and empathy and to enable students to expand their world perspectives.
Titanic VR by Immersive VR Education Ltd
Immersive VR Education Ltd is a European company that focuses on creating VR/AR software “dedicated to transforming how educational content is delivered and consumed globally.” Although it is more of a passive experience, it is still quite impactful. It first starts on Titanic as the user is being asked to hop on the rescue boat. They face how chaotic the moment may have been: babies crying, parents looking for their children, and screaming everywhere. Then they escape the Titanic by getting on the rescue boat and watching the Titanic sink from afar.
Lindero Entertainment, a virtual reality content company located in Irvine, CA, created an experience that not only builds awareness and empathy but also survival skills. This game lets the player experience the actual moment an earthquake hits. In order to successfully complete the game, the player must follow each step in the guided experience. This will lead the player to collecting information about the earthquake through watching the news, creating an emergency packet by reading the emergency kit checklist, protecting themselves by going under the table during the earthquake, and safely leaving the area along with a pet. This simple yet informative simulator allows players to really understand the pressure and stress they may experience in the moment while teaching them essential earthquake survival skills. Overall, the experience is very engaging and motivating.
As VR continues to grow in popularity it is important that we critically look at the applications utilizing this exciting technology. With the growing resources and support VR is experiencing, now is a great time for educators to find or create the right content for their audiences and learning goals.