Many state and local public health departments are increasingly focused on preparing for a radiological emergency. Given public health’s fairly recent involvement in radiological preparedness, along with the scientific complexity of the field, training responders can be an extensive and overwhelming task.
Developed by the University of Minnesota (U of M) Center for Public Health Preparedness, and now supported by the U of M Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center (PERLC), this free online training educates users on aspects of a radiological response. The course, titled “Dirty Bomb! After the Blast,” engages participants in three interactive missions occurring in response to the detonation of a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD or “dirty bomb”). “Dirty Bomb! After the Blast” was developed with extensive assistance from subject matter experts from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, International Mass Fatalities Center, and Minnesota Department of Health Radioactive Materials Unit. Eduweb, a developer of digital learning games, shaped the online interactive simulation.
“Dirty Bomb! After the Blast” consists of three missions that can be completed chronologically or out of order. The three missions address specific, concrete aspects of response and are designed to provide an interactive and educational introduction to radiological preparedness. The training is not designed to provide comprehensive and in-depth content for responders.
Missions present virtual scenarios in which participants receive situational information, respond to different environments, and interact with victims of the blast. Activities are based on an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) framework and primarily involve decontaminating blast victims, setting up mass fatalities operational sites, and establishing a community assistance center. The simulation is similar to an online or video game in which participants must answer questions or accomplish a task in various environments in order to proceed. Training content is organized into three modules as follows:
- Mission 1: Dirty Bomb Decontamination
Mission 1 walks participants through a simulation of a dirty bomb detonation and the subsequent steps necessary to assess and decontaminate survivors. After a dirty bomb explodes at a senator’s political rally, simulation participants explore options for private space to decontaminate her traveling party. Before people arrive, the user’s job is to find an appropriate facility for decontaminating the senator’s assistants; set up hot, warm, and cold zones and identify appropriate tasks for each zone; secure the ventilation systems; explore the area to find ways in which it can be secured; look for supplies at the building site or visit the hardware store; and choose appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for decontamination staff. Once the senator’s party begins to arrive, users interact with a room of people who require decontamination. The user can walk around the room, listen to people who have questions, prioritize people for decontamination, and conduct external contamination scans.
- Mission 2: Mass Fatalities Operational Sites
Mission 2 walks the user through logistical and procedural concerns that may need to be addressed following the detonation of a dirty bomb. The interactive training presented during this mission is particularly helpful for identifying small but necessary details that may otherwise be overlooked during a response. Much of Mission 2 addresses the aftermath of human injury and death, along with damage to infrastructure. Users begin the scenario by identifying appropriate locations for mass fatalities operational sites from a detailed aerial map. Based on building characteristics, participants choose functional sites for a mass fatalities command center, a morgue, a family assistance center, and a staff processing center. Users assign responders to the various sites, categorize and process various items found at the blast scene (e.g., evidence, human remains, personal belongings), and select appropriate PPE for the tasks. The mission also provides brief background information on the issue of mass fatalities and why mass fatalities planning is an important component of a blast response.
- Mission 3: Community Assistance Center
Mission 3 asks users to decide how best to provide support services to people concerned about the effects of the blast. The scenario involves providing mental health services within a neighborhood that is home to a large number of Latino families. Participants identify the best location for a community assistance center, choose staff members to operate the facility, and listen to concerns voiced by community members.
Development of an online simulation to train users in radiological preparedness and response stemmed partly from the U of M’s use of two previous public health simulations: “Outbreak at Watersedge” and “Disaster in Franklin County.” Because users must answer questions and interact with their environment throughout the training, these simulations serve as an excellent means to gather evaluation data on the curricula. Health department staff who took the training offered feedback, such as “Visual plus interaction is a plus for retaining the information;” “[Multiple choice questions in 3D graphics] is a great way to learn. Simulations are excellent for retention and practice;” and “I liked how I could feel like I was actually part of the scene.”
Rather than serving as a straightforward training, the simulation creates a world and a story in which users can act and respond to changing circumstances. Keeping participants visually interested during the training promotes retention of the material and facilitates creative problem-solving skills in response to stimuli. Users also receive experience in making decisions to further an ongoing public health response.