The Simulation Centre at Coventry University helps to train and prepare emergency service responders for incidents

Simulation Centre

Representatives from West Midlands Ambulance Service, West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire Service training at Coventry University's Simulation Centre

University news / Business news / City of Culture 2021

Friday 25 March 2022

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Technology and teamwork have combined in Coventry to help train first responders and local authorities to manage major incidents.

Working alongside Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire councils and the local emergency services, the Simulation Centre at Coventry University has created realistic virtual reality emergency response scenarios to train and exercise emergency responders and local authorities to help keep people safe at major events, including those for Coventry UK City of Culture, from a command and control perspective.

The Simulation Centre employs a multitude of systems and methods to create highly immersive, real time changeable training scenarios. The main interactive area features a 10-metre, 160° curved screen, surround sound, temperature regulation to simulate outdoor conditions, as well as smoke, lighting and smell effects to immerse delegates.

There are 9 break-out rooms and a remote observation and control room for running the sessions. Throughout the centre there is CCTV and audio recording in all areas, which is used as part of the sessions for assessment, feedback and after-action review purposes. The overall approach is designed to immerse delegates into the given situation, in an environment where they can practice, develop and explore their skills, that is safe, but realistic.

All of the classroom training in the world can’t prepare you for what it’s really like in the middle of a major emergency.

Lives depend on how well the emergency services work together in difficult, dangerous and highly stressful situations.

This virtual world allows us to test our well-rehearsed plans in a safe but realistic environment, where we can identify important lessons. The aim is that when we do come together in the real world, we’ve ironed out issues that could stop us from being the best we could be.

Kerry Blakeman from West Midlands Police

In one recently tested scenario, a car race on Coventry ring road is stopped when an electric car carrying protestors opposed to the race, gains access to and obstructs ring road, causing one of the racing cars to crash through the barriers, injuring spectators.

To add a further layer of complexity, as they rush to help the casualties, emergency workers are overcome by fumes and themselves become victims.

The lighting and temperature in the room change as the incident progresses and actors in the room play the roles of distressed relatives, angry protestors and anyone else who paramedics, police or firefighters might come across at an actual emergency scene.

And just as in real incidents, frontline staff share updates of what’s happening with their control rooms and decisions are then fed into the simulation, changing the virtual scene in real time to show how they impact the incident.

The whole process tests how well the emergency services at the scene work together and how well their separate control rooms communicate and share vital information. Afterwards, the sessions are discussed to understand what worked well, what lessons could be learned and what changes need to be made to training or policy.

Sessions are observed remotely as well as recorded so they can be used after for action review, to reflect and feedback on how everyone performed.

Our communities rightly rely on us and our partner agencies working together effectively to save lives. The safety of the public and our staff is also a priority at any incident to which we respond.

The virtual reality scenarios provide a safe but extremely realistic training environment. They complement the many exercises we already stage throughout the year. It's all about us learning from each other as well as reviewing, developing and evolving how we respond.

Station Manager Samantha Lewis, from West Midlands Fire Service

What we’ve found from facilitating these sessions is that people don’t behave as though it’s training. The situations are so immersive, delegates forget they’re being assessed and act more naturally as they are being observed remotely from our control room.

Just like the services, our unique facility is second to none and helps us remove 'exercise-itis' and by working together in this way, we're helping keep the city safe.

James Doyle, Simulation Centre Manager from Coventry University,

Scenarios take teams of experts between two days to six months to plan and create, depending on the complexity. Generic environments such as sports stadiums, shopping centres and other commercial or residential settings can be created in hours but replicating real locations takes longer.

Training is essential to all emergency services. To regularly undertake live exercises on this scale, would take ambulance staff, police officers and firefighters off the streets for a considerable time.

While live exercises will always be necessary, using this equipment we can still create all the visual impact and complexity of a real situation.

The simulation centre offers complex scenarios that can be quickly reset and quickly altered. This means that all our commanders can experience multi-agency working, identifying learning quickly and consistently. The site also reduces the impact of exercise planning and delivery on operational availability and can be linked directly to training and development objectives and outcomes.

We’re really grateful to James and rest of the university for recognising our important work and for giving us this amazing opportunity.

David Levesley, West Midlands Ambulance Service’s emergency preparedness manager

At the scene of a major emergency the ability to operate and make decisions under pressure is of upmost importance.

The SIM Centre supports learning in this area by placing participants at the heart of a virtual major incident within a safe and controlled learning environment.

By being fully immersed in the SIM Centre experience, our officers’ benefit from working alongside emergency services partners while also developing and maintaining their own core skills should they be called into action to support our residents, businesses and visitors.

Sam Collins, head of Coventry, Solihull & Warwickshire Resilience

Just like the emergency services need to prepare for emergencies, so do you. Whether it’s learning first aid, having a home fire escape plan or being ready for extreme weather, there’s lots of ways you can reduce the negative impact these events have on you and your family. Find out more on your council’s website or visit this government website.

Discover more about Coventry University’s Simulation Centre.