Stimulus for the Strategic: why we need to invest in virtual reality

AUTHOR: Matthew Harper

When it comes to crisis management and preparation, I’m a believer in big exercises. Not necessarily big simultaneous exercises, but carefully managed, logically sequenced exercises. Where people from across a range of skills, experience and roles are tested for reactions and decision-making capability. 

One of the challenges when developing valuable crisis simulation exercises is providing sustained and appropriate stimuli to senior decision makers, including having them respond to the consequences of the decisions they make.

It’s easy to run a fire-drill that gets everyone out of their seat and onto the street. But a real crisis demands more complex and ongoing solutions than a simple building evacuation. Leaders need to make stressful real-time decisions. As such, exercises need to demand more from leaders.

Traditionally, decision makers have been incorporated into tabletop or hypothetical exercises. These are great for testing arrangements, practicing plans, challenging assumptions and establishing the relationships needed in a crisis. What they rarely do is challenge participants to make a decision and then react to the consequences of that decision.

Some form of virtual reality (VR) provides organisations the ability to learn, practice and test not only essential frontline skills but high-level immediate crisis decision making (communication, critical decision making and problem solving).

Let’s consider two real life examples in the aviation sector.

Airports test fire plans, response to a simulated crash and security lock down procedures. But does anyone park a 737-800 full of people, start a fuel leak, open all the emergency doors and evacuate 184 people onto the tarmac in real-time? Does anyone do it a second time, but introduce mobility and vision impaired, unaccompanied minors, non-English speaking passengers and minimal ground staffing?

Equally, do strategic decision makers test their decision-making if an A330 lands with a suspicious package on-board? Do they consider the range of potential issues? Do they watch the response agencies move into position? Do they manage the terminal shut down and the associated road traffic build up?  Can they cope with social media pictures from inside the plane and radio stations bombarding the switchboard? Can they do all this while still not quite knowing the full extent of what’s happening inside that large white metal cylinder?

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Changi Airport does. So do others, but big picture exercises are still a distant reality for many.

Virtual reality is effective at putting leaders under stress. In the real world, key decision makers are often miles away from the situation and engaging via phone, text, television or live-streaming. These are the delivery tools of a VR system, the people in the room are real, the decision making is real and the simulation is where the improbable and impossible become reality.

Tigertail Australia will be bringing international expert Martijn Boosman from XVR in the Netherlands to Canberra to present a breakfast forum on VR technologies, the trends and its use around the world. Click here to access the booking form for event and registration information.