Games Tackle Disaster Training

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Don't worry about bird flu - video games will come to the rescue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding a series of computer games to help prepare health workers and other first responders facing bioterror attacks, nuclear accidents and pandemics.

acked also by Chicago's Department of Public Health, a University of Illinois at Chicago research team is developing a series of games that simulate health-related emergencies as well as biological, chemical, radiological and natural disasters.

The new approach is expected to save money - but it can also prepare many professionals and volunteers quickly in the event of a health emergency, like the potential bird-flu pandemic.

"These games let people train on their own schedules," said Eric Holdeman, an expert in disaster relief and director of Washington state's King County Office of Emergency Management. "And it gets us away from death by PowerPoint in the typical classroom environment. It's also cost-effective."

The first game, which took three months to develop, trains health workers to respond to an anthrax outbreak. A massive flu pandemic simulation is in the works.

Players learn how to set up MASH sites, evaluate patients and dispense drugs. They also are trained to distribute medications to health-care sites and notify the public, instructing people on what to do -- without instilling panic.

Throughout the game, trainees' responses are scored for speed and appropriateness.

The game also helps health workers and volunteers cross-train for more than one job. Crisis teams are typically understaffed. The scoring helps players determine what they are good at and what skills they need to sharpen.

A multiplayer prototype is being developed to train teams of health specialists to work together.

There are about 23 different roles for each crisis, and each scenario requires different training, explained Dr. Colleen Monahan, an epidemiologist and the simulations' lead programmer.

"Avian flu is a real challenge, because people will be really scared," she said. "Fifty percent of people who get avian flu die, regardless of age. Quarantines, keeping people away from each other, will be difficult. Our approach helps people train for multiple tasks and role-play with each other without the cost and on their own schedules."

Traditionally, health-care workers are trained by role-playing or watching videos. The simulations won't entirely replace conventional approaches, Monahan said, but they will shorten and focus the face-to-face training.

The game was originally developed for the Chicago Public Health Department, but the CDC and other agencies, embarrassed by the response to Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters, are keen to adopt new tools that will help them be more prepared when the next crisis hits.

Source: Wired
 
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