The U.S. Army and the Department of Homeland Security have developed a virtual training program to train first-responders and teachers to respond to active shooters — in schools.
The $5.6 million Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment program, based at the University of Central Florida Orlando, was originally developed as a training center for the Army, but it's being adapted to train law enforcement and school personnel on how to deal with school shooters, according to the AP.
The simulator looks like a first-person shooter video game and leads you through classrooms, hallways, and a cafeteria as children run and scream for help. The simulator gives teachers seven options to keep kids safe. It also trains teachers to watch for shooters who are adults or children.
To better understand what people go through during a mass shooting, the researchers listened to dispatch tapes and talked to a mother of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.
“We can prevent a lot of these deaths. We can prepare people better,” Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer for the program, told the AP. “We can make this a safer environment if we can get this into the hands of the right people.”
The program will launch this spring after the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, which killed 20 children and six adults. A Politico count of mass shootings in schools showed that incidents have not gotten more frequent since the 1980s and '90s, but they have gotten deadlier.
The Orlando facility was developed by the Army to reduce the cost of live in-person field exercises. Currently any U.S. first responder with a computer can access the free program. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security told Fox News the program would be available free to download.
A majority of U.S. schools have implemented active-shooter safety plans. A 2016 CDC study found that 90 percent of U.S. public schools had a written plan for responding to school shootings and 70 percent had already drilled students based on their plan.
But the researchers in Orlando are trying to to prepare teachers and school personnel beyond a basic safety plan and train them in a realistic environment. The program also trains school personnel how to best work alongside first-responders to maximize safety and minimize chaos.
"Once you hear the children, the screaming, it makes it very, very real," Bob Walker, a product manager for the program, told Fox News.