A Virtual Active Shooter Training Course for Teachers

By Cait Etherington
February 28, 2018

As widely reported in late 2017, Homeland Security has worked with experts at its Army Research Lab in Orlando to develop a multiplayer, scalable, online training environment for first responders known as EDGE, or Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment. While the first version was designed for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government law enforcement organizations, fire fighters, and other first responders, the same platform will soon be available to teachers and school administrators looking for ways to keep their school environments safe. But will America’s teachers embrace simulated active shooter training?

What is Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment?

Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment was built using the Unreal Engine, which is a platform that allows responders across disciplines to assume different avatars and role-play complex response scenarios. As stated on the Department of Homeland Security website, “EDGE is a training environment that is intended to be a group tool where multiple trainees can assume any of the roles above to execute the desired training. It is not intended to be a single-trainee environment. EDGE is not a training course in the traditional sense, but rather it is a tool instructors use to train their first responder teams in a safe environment, where scenarios can be changed or re-run as many times as necessary to provide a wide range of training possibilities. Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment also has an after-action review capability where training sessions can be replayed with full pause, rewind, and fast-forward controls to highlight key training points.” Notably, while EDGE is not intended to replace live training, as emphasized by Homeland Security, “Agency budgets often limit the amount of live training that first responders can conduct or participate in. The EDGE platform…provides the perfect way to augment and reinforce live training without the cost of a full-up live exercise.”

EDGE firefighter avatar battles a blaze in the hotel restaurant area (image source: Homeland Security, EDGE Virtual Training Photos).

Bringing EDGE Training to Schools

After Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment’s successful roll out with first responders, there are now plans to bring comparable training to teachers in schools across the United States as soon as this spring. Last week, Tabatha Dwyer, Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment’s Creative Director, told ABC’s WFTV 9 that the new simulation uses as many as eight exercises to train teachers. As she explained, the simulation is designed to help teachers “see what it’s like to lock doors, to barricade doors, to tell children, to make the hard decisions, ‘We need to jump out the window, right now, right now, and escape.”

Notably, the simulation will be able to train up to 20 people at a time and is based on real active shooter situations that have happened in U.S. Schools, including incidents at Columbine and Sandy Hook. Notably, the training enables participants to play the role of teacher, shooter, or officer and the program takes into account different safety measures including the use of intercom systems and automatic locks. While working through the virtual shooting incident, participants are offered tips on effective lockdown practices and how to construct physical barriers in classrooms and other areas of the school.

While it seems likely that this new high-tech approach to school safety will prove controversial, as Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer for the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment Project, told Campus Safety magazine last December, “With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality. We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders.” But are teachers ready to embrace EDGE training? While it is yet to be seen whether teachers and the nation’s largest teachers’ unions will embrace EDGE training, with the NRA and President calling for an even more extreme solution (arming school teachers and paying bonuses to those that holster up in the classroom), it seems likely that EDGE will be getting serious attention from the nation’s educators over the coming months.