Following a chemical, radiological, or biological incident, responders need to be prepared to properly collect samples of the contaminating agent and conduct decontamination to protect the surrounding community and environment. In order to ensure that environmental sampling and analysis efforts produce credible and scientifically sound data so that agencies and the public could be reasonably confident in their results, sampling methods must be reproducible using validated and standardized procedures. Incorrect sampling could result in inconclusive results, thereby hampering cleanup efforts. Responders typically prepare for such events by learning sampling and decontamination protocols either in a classroom setting or in a condensed training provided prior to conducting sampling in a hazardous environment. Emergency responder expertise is a direct derivative of training and exercise. The impacts of these activities are bolstered with increasing realism. Nevertheless, exercises, especially full-scale disaster exercises are expensive, time consuming, difficult to organize, and can be limited in scope.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers, in collaboration with North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety and the City of Raleigh Fire Department, developed a cost-effective training simulator capable of generating life-like visuals using commercial off-the-shelf software and hardware to produce a “perfect practice” environment for improving training effectiveness and enhancing situation awareness prior to entering a contaminated environment. The training platform reduces the burden associated with planning and conducting full-scale disaster exercises by creating an immersive and interactive experience while serving as a more in-depth tool for training emergency officials on the use of biological surface sampling methods and their associated procedures.