Digital actuality experiment exhibits lack of fireplace preparedness – The Echo
Delene Weber, professor of environmental science. Photo delivered.
Royal Commission evidence on the 2009 Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people showed that 69 percent of deaths occurred while under shelter.
Another 22 percent of people died outside of their home and 14 percent died while fleeing in cars or on foot. Most of the people who died did not have a comprehensive bushfire survival plan.
The fires of the Australian Black Summer 2019-2020 killed 34 people, including nine firefighters.
A recent virtual reality experiment shows that most people who live in high risk fire areas are still “pitifully unprepared”.
The experiment that enabled people to experience a raging bushfire from a 3D headset revealed some harsh truths about Australians living in high risk areas.
By recreating a computer-generated bush fire with virtual reality, researchers from the University of South Australia studied the reactions of 400 people in an Australian first experiment with some interesting results.
The “waiting and seeing” and the “staying and defending”
Prior to the exercise, 55 percent said that on a severe day of fire they would “wait and see” rather than commit to an early evacuation or “stay and defend” and more than two-thirds of people (68 percent) mistakenly believed in that Toilet was the safest place to go.
In the course of the VR exercise, where respondents immerse themselves in every element of a fire crisis minus the heat, many of the non-committal group changed their minds, saying they would rather evacuate early after experiencing the hellish conditions of a bushfire for themselves.
At the follow-up exam three months later, 75 percent of the participants remembered an important lesson: shelter in a room with multiple exits, as far away from the fire front as possible. The same percentage said the exercise “highly informed” their understanding of bushfire and the need for a survival plan.
The value of virtual reality
UniSA environmental science professor Delene Weber, who co-supervised the study with PhD student Safa Molan, says the results show how valuable virtual reality can be as a training and education tool for people living in high-risk fire areas.
“Many of these people have never experienced a life-threatening bush fire and do not know how to react or what decisions they would make under extreme pressure,” says Prof. Weber. “But a lack of preparation is not a new phenomenon. Records of the number of bushfire deaths over the past 200 years show that nearly a third of deaths are due to late evacuations and poor decisions. ‘
The VR exercise with at-risk Adelaide Hills, Gawler and Murraylands residents targeted behavioral weaknesses and knowledge gaps that lead to injuries and death.
A total of 17 scenes of a bush fire were experienced via the 3D headset, including early warning signs, changeable weather conditions, the sights and sounds of the fire that broke through a property and threatened life, and after the fire front was over.
Two versions of the VR scenario were created: one for residents who wanted to “stay and defend” and a second for residents who wanted to “wait and see”. The latter were virtually prevented from leaving their property by a tree blocking their access route, adding to the need for an emergency plan.
A written survival plan
Prior to the exercise, 25 percent of the “wait and see” group had a written survival plan compared to 52 percent of the “stay and defend” group – still alarmingly low considering the many CFS members.
In the VR scenario, the receipt of the CFS message “Observe and act” was an initial trigger for 37 percent of the “waiting” cohort to leave and a further 20 percent in this group decided to leave after their neighbors had been evacuated.
Only 14 percent of this group chose to stay and fight the fire after experiencing it virtually.
The “stay and defend” cohort was more consistent and less unpredictable in its responses, as the study shows.
Prof. Weber said that many respondents realized that they were both practical and emotionally unwilling to deal with a fire.
“From this virtual reality scenario, it became clear that we need radically different approaches to educating people about bushfire plans, and VR is a very effective approach.
“The nice thing about VR is that we can adapt and adapt scenarios to appeal to different groups of people, including women and those at risk.
The results were published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.