Video game prepares health workers for disasters

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A video game that simulates biological, chemical, radiological and natural disasters in a major metropolitan area, developed by a team from the University of Illinois at Chicago, will be used to prepare public health workers and emergency responders for real life emergencies.

The video game is the first in a series of simulations to address bioterrorism, pandemic flu, smallpox and other disasters that emergency personnel must prepare for.

Until recently, public health workers and emergency responders have been trained using role-playing exercises and actual disaster drills, which are costly and time-intensive when preparing thousands of people for a multitude of catastrophic scenarios.

"In light of the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that preparedness training needs to go a lot further," said Lars Ullberg, executive producer of the project at UIC's Center for the Advancement of Distance Education and an Emmy Award-winning writer, developer and producer. "Simulations are the only efficient and cost-effective way to bridge the gap between theory and practice and prepare our emergency workers for both the expected and unexpected."

The first scenario in the project simulates a bioterrorism response focused on training thousands of people to dispense mass amounts of drugs and vaccines in the wake of an anthrax attack.

The simulation begins with a television news report warning the public about the disaster. As the public begins to flock to emergency dispensing and vaccination centers, public health workers and emergency responders are faced with real-life situations, including a person who may have been exposed to anthrax and a hysterical woman who believes the world is going to end.

Throughout the simulation, the game tracks how the public health workers respond to various situations and how quickly patients are being evaluated and treated.

"We've strived to make the game interface easy and accessible for people who may not be computer savvy, yet we want it to be immersive," said Kevin Harvey, manager of the City Readiness Training Group, which developed the game.

The simulation project was developed in only three months for the Chicago Public Health Department and was unveiled at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Annual Distance Learning Summit in September. It will also be presented at the Second Annual Serious Games Summit in Washington Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

Another scenario, involving an outbreak of pandemic flu, is currently under development.

"The response from both the CDC and the professional community has been overwhelmingly positive," said Colleen Monahan, director of UIC's Center for the Advancement of Distance Education at the School of Public Health. "We believe this is the first serious game focused on preparing the public health workforce, and it will revolutionize emergency preparedness training."

For more information about UIC's Center for the Advancement of Distance Education, visit


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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