Cost–benefit analysis of virtual reality-based training for emergency rescue workers: a socio-technical systems approach
Virtual reality (VR) is widely recognised as a promising technology for training emergency first responders and other safety–critical workers. It is uniquely able to immerse trainees in extreme situations that are too risky or dangerous to be examined in traditional real-world safety training. Most organisations seeking to implement VR safety training often limit their decisions to financial and technological factors. However, in this paper, we argue that a socio-technical systems approach is required to better appreciate the social costs and benefits of VR training, which are important for a successful implementation. The paper also reports our own research on a real-world implementation of VR safety training for the Mine Rescue Brigades in New South Wales, Australia. The training—conducted in both fully immersive (360 VR) and non-immersive (Desktop VR) virtual reality—involved a search and rescue operation which was necessitated by an underground fire at the bottom of the transport drift in a coal mine. Following this training, the 368 trainees not only completed a post-training questionnaire, but also were interviewed, to assess their training experiences in the VR environment. The findings provide a comprehensive account of the social costs and benefits of adopting VR as a safety training tool. Overall, the trainees perceived the benefits to far outweigh the costs, with an overall high inclination to recommend the VR training to other colleagues. Desktop VR was found to be as fit for delivering successful training as the more immersive 360 VR. However, this Desktop VR generated considerably less motion sickness in trainees. These findings should help organisations and training providers decide on: (1) whether or not to invest in VR safety training solutions; (2) which type technology/method of delivery to use.