Knowing how to handle yourself in an emergency is about as basic a survival skill as one can have.
Now, researchers at the University of South Australia have turned to kid-friendly technology — immersive virtual reality, via an Oculus Rift-type headset — as a way to prepare children for emergencies in a way they’ll enjoy.
The University of South Australia is based in Adelaide, one of the world’s driest places, plagued by devastating bushfires. Helping children navigate that threat prompted the study.
The research team focused on children ages 10 to 12. They created a virtual reality experience in which the children are challenged to look after a friend’s dog just before a bushfire begins. They are taken through an immersive series of problem-solving tasks to protect themselves and the dog.
After going through the experience, more than 80% of the children agreed or strongly agreed that they felt more confident to calmly weigh options and make smart decisions to protect themselves.
Before the training, 91% of the children lacked any specific fire knowledge, and 67% said they felt they were too young to make good decisions during a fire.
The researchers found no significant differences in the virtual training’s effectiveness based on gender or kids’ own perceptions about their ability to handle themselves in scary situations.
Virtual reality technology, the researchers said, could easily be used for other disasters, such as floods, war, tornadoes or hurricanes.
The researchers noted that children today have never known a life without technology and aren’t threatened by it. Using virtual reality tools may help them experience events realistically while still feeling safe.