The fire alarm has sounded. It’s a shrill, mechanical bleating purposely designed to quicken the pulse of every human.
You’re responsible for 25 people on this floor getting out of this building in as orderly a manner as possible, and you’re not going to leave anyone behind.
You are calm.
You know where to find the nearest exits. You know how to use the safety equipment. You know where all your people sit, and you know how to get them together before making your escape. You know all this because you’ve done it before. In this same building, on this same floor, in this same situation.
You know because you’ve be training with the most advanced video conferencing tools available to volunteer emergency personnel.
Failing to Prepare Is Preparing to Fail
Every business, school, hospital, train station, bar, sports stadium, and any other conceivable place where people congregate in the U.S. has an emergency response plan.
In most cases the people responsible for making that plan a viable reality amid blaring alarms and rising smoke are volunteers with little or no experience in emergency situations.
If you’re lucky, there’s an ex-Navy Seal among your staff ready to take control in a crisis, but more likely than not it’s just going to be Kevin from accounts. Kevin’s a nice guy, but without the proper training he’s just an accountant trying to inflate a seafaring life vest in a midtown Chicago high rise.
Thankfully, there are a number of experts on hand to provide proper training, from private companies to building owners, company workplace safety units, and local fire, police, and ambulance services.
These services could get a further boost when it comes to training people by turning to the digital world and embracing augmented reality–a method of merging computer-generated images and sounds with real-world locations.
Video Conferencing for Emergency Training
Companies such as Zugara have developed technology to digitally insert graphics and sounds directly into video conference calls.
It’s the same concept that lets television broadcasters post the score and time over the top of a live sporting presentation–McDonald’s used it to turn their fries packets into World Cup penalty kick simulations–but by going a step further and making such graphics interactive it opens up all sorts of possibilities for training office emergency wardens.
For instance, by equipping the office video conferencing setup with a depth-of-field camera, such as Microsoft’s Kinect, employees can speak directly with emergency trainers while being presented with a range of interactive virtual lessons and tests.
You could project a 3D layout of the floor over the video call and ask the trainee to point out all the exits. Or you could throw up a rendering of necessary safety equipment, such as a fire extinguisher, and talk the employee through a hands-on demonstration of its use–radically reducing the risk of the conference room being unnecessarily covered in flame-retardant foam.
The technology that translates between human hand movement and virtual graphics is no more elaborate than the one children put to use playing video games on the old Nintendo Wii system–except now the computer graphics are rendered within a real setting.
If you wanted to immerse someone in a full evacuation drill, without bothering anyone else on the floor, you could invest in a set of VR goggles–these currently retail for around $150 and operate via smartphone.
Now the trainee can move about their actual workplace while interactive images, and wailing sirens, are projected into their field of vision. While lashing flames and dense smoke may be a little traumatic for an augmented reality novice to deal with, simple red crosses and blacked out exits would suffice to throw a few unexpected evacuation curve balls.
If Microsoft’s HoloLens technology ever moves beyond the developmental stage, there’ll be even more freedom of movement to be had as the visuals will no longer be delivered by smartphones and the connectivity and bandwidth limitations they drag with them.
It’ll be a chance to take the static health and safety exam off the page and project it into a real-world memory, not to be forgotten.
I’ll Talk You Through It
As this is a video conference call, the trainer–be they a firefighter, EMT, or FEMA employee–can be on hand to talk a would-be emergency warden through every possible contingency.
The remote nature of the interaction between student and teacher also reduces any travel expenses, and means companies can call on whoever is most knowledgeable, regardless of where they reside.
As the trainee’s augmented view of the world can be shared with a wider audience through an additional screen, exactly the same way current multi-caller video conferences are made today, an entire room of people could follow along with the lesson in real-time. They could even watch on from a huddle room while the bravest among them walks through the fictional flames out to safety.
It’s a trial by fire without the need for anyone to get burned, and it could be the safest way yet devised to make sure the necessary heads remain cool in a crisis.