Digital actuality experiment exhibits most dwelling in high-risk fireplace zones are ‘woefully unprepared’

UniSA researcher Safa Molan tests the 3D headsets that simulate a large bush fire. Credit: University of South Australia

Allowing people to “safely” experience a raging bushfire from a 3D headset has revealed some harsh truths about Australians who live in high risk areas: Most are pathetically unprepared.

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.

Prior to the exercise, 55 percent said that on a severe day of fire they would “wait and see” rather than commit to early evacuation or “stay and defend”, and more than two-thirds of people (68 percent) mistakenly believed that the toilet that is. safest shelter.

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.

UniSA Professor of Environmental Sciences Delene Weber, who won the study with Ph.D. Candidate Safa Molan says the results show how valuable virtual reality can be as a training and educational 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 unpreparedness is not new. Records 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 prepared: 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.

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, receipt of the CFS message “Watch and Act” served as the first trigger for 37 percent of the “waiting” cohort to leave, and another 20 percent in this group decided to leave after their neighbors were evacuated.

Only 14 percent of this group decided they would 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.

“Many respondents realized that they are practically and emotionally unwilling to deal with a fire,” says Prof. Weber.

“From this virtual reality scenario it became clear that we need radically different approaches to educate people about bushfire plans, and VR is a very effective one.

“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.

Evidence from the Royal Commission on the 2009 Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people showed 69 percent of deaths occurred while people sought refuge, with the bathroom being the most common location accounting for 27 percent of the population Fatalities was responsible. 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.

Would you like to know what it’s like to be in the line of fire?

More information:
Safa Molan, et al., Improving Bushfire Preparedness Using Virtual Reality, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.ijdrr.2021.102574 Provided by the University of South Australia

Quote: Virtual Reality Experiment Shows Most Residents of High Risk Fire Areas Are “Deplorably Unprepared” (2021, December 13), accessed on December 13, 2021 from -virtual-reality-high-risk -zones-wefully.html

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