Training first responders, paramedics, nursing staff, crisis management teams in Virtual Reality

VR Education for first responders

Pioneering work of the German Red Cross and Hexagon Geosystem with the Leica BLK360 Imager


Virtual Reality (VR) as an educational medium is not a new topic. For more than 20 years, different solutions and concepts have been used for military and other public safety training. VR training is, though, new in health care, in rescue services (first responders, paramedics, nurses) as well as in disaster management.


What is Virtual Reality?

VR training uses 3D computer graphics that depict various scenarios giving users the feeling of being on-site, as close to reality as possible. The immersion in the digital world and the interaction of the users, enhanced by haptic or audio stimuli, the ego-perspective and the feeling of “presence” complete the concept of virtual training.


The use of VR in education

When does the use of VR-oriented training particularly makes sense? Especially in situations where the real training is expensive, time-consuming or even dangerous, as in some areas of medicine, in rescue operations (especially with volunteers), as well as in disaster management.

A recent survey of the German Federal Statistical Office shows a theoretically large potential for VR training, measured by the number of employees in German hospitals. In 2017, full-time employees in 1,925 German hospitals were as follows:

  • 161,200 doctors
  • 733,200 persons in non-medical service
  • 23,000 persons without direct employment (out of 2,700 in the medical service)
  • 328,327 persons in the nursing service.

In addition, here are the numbers of full-time and volunteer employees of the most important German aid and rescue organisations:

  • German Red Cross: 140,000 employees and 400,000 volunteers
  • Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft: 560,000 members
  • Arbeiter Samariter Bund: 41,000 full-time employees and 20,000 volunteers
  • Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe: 21,850 full-time members and 37,218 voluntary members
  • Malteser Hilfsdienst e.V. and Malteser Hilfsdienst gGmbH: 35,000 full-time employees and 51,000 volunteers

Why educate in Virtual Reality?

A recurring argument in favour of virtual training in this area is the flexibility and the location independence of training scenarios. Depending on the area of application, a corresponding digital reality can be designed and implemented with little effort. The learning contents can be conveyed safely, since they are virtual. The further advantages include potentially increased patient safety, as even complex processes and procedures can be practiced repeatedly and higher learning effectiveness, as the "journey through the body" can be understood and practiced in detail, so that the error rate is minimised for interventions that have been practiced routinely and repeatedly.


Simulated, realistic environment

For the operational reliability in a rescue or emergency scenario, response teams (including voluntary helpers) can test different approaches and procedures directly in a simulated ambulance environment. The G  RC Kreisverband Herford-Stadt e.V. (German Red Cross Herford City Association) is doing pioneering work in this area under the direction of Ralf Hoffmann, managing director of the district, and Thomas Pilz, honorary digitisation officer (both: DRK Kreisverband Herford-Stadt e.V.) in cooperation with  Hexagon Geosystems among others.



The BLK360 scans an ambulance


3D digitisation of ambulances

As early as 2019, theLeica BLK360, the smallest 3D imaging laser scanner on the market, and the Leica Pegasus:Backpack, the mobile mapping laser scanning solution, were used to digitise an ambulance. The 3D data model of the ambulance was used to create a simulator being used for training purposes by paramedics (cooperation with the Fraunhofer IGD, among others).


German Red Cross' ambulance in VR

3D digitisation of hospital rooms

Since then, the small yet powerful BLK360 has been in use at the German Red Cross (GRC) for different projects, The nursing and hospital rooms in St. Ansgar Hospital (in cooperation with the Catholic Hospital Association Weser-Egge (KHWE) have just been scanned and digitised.



Hospital rooms being scanned with the Leica BLK3D

Further projects with the GRC and the Catholic Hospital Association Weser-Egge KHWE for primary (emergency rescue) and secondary operations (intensive care and patient transport) are also forthcoming, such as the digitisation of the shock rooms as well as the examination and treatment rooms.


Cooperation of GRC, KHWE and Hexagon Geosystems. "Thank you" video

How does the BLK360 3D laser scanner work?

The BLK360 captures the environment in 3D with full-colour panoramic images that are superimposed over a highly accurate point cloud. The BLK360 is the smallest and lightest instrument of its kind and is easy to use thanks to its one-button operation. Anyone who can handle an iPad can now capture the environment with high-resolution 3D panoramic images.

A few facts about the BLK360:

  • Enables scanning at the touch of a button in high, standard and fast resolution
  • Is a lightweight of about 1 kg (fits in a courier bag)
  • Takes less than 3 minutes to scan with full field of view (in standard resolution) and generate a spherical image at 150 MP
  • Produces 360,000 laser scan points/sec


The advantages of training in VR

  • Reliability of the personnel in action: Routines in exceptional situations can be trained repeatedly
  • Realistic environment with the feeling of being on-site
  • Authentic learning impression
  • Various exercise scenarios
  • Possibility of repeated training
  • Safety of trainers and trainees during exercise in potentially hazardous places
  • Intuitive operation without special IT or programming knowledge
  • Safe distance (in times of pandemics, like Corona)
  • Increased patient safety
  • Time saving
  • Attractive for voluntary work

VR training also has many advantages for trainers. The introduction to the training is already integrated as a tutorial directly in the system. During the training, the integrated software can accompany the training process with clues or progress analysis in order to detect and minimise errors of the trainee. This reduces the supervision effort and accelerates the training. The training can be flexibly designed and is available anytime and anywhere. Trainees and instructors learn and work across locations, individually and yet jointly. This also strengthens the team spirit and motivates the stakeholders in a fun way.


With all the advantages of virtual reality-based training, it must still be emphasized that VR education is a supplement and extension of the classic, traditional training. VR education can’t completely replace in-person training.


In situations when in-person training is particularly challenging, costly or even dangerous, the use of Virtual Reality technology is useful and recommended. Flexibility of scenario design, location independence, safe and realistic learning environment make VR training a very good supplement to classical training. The German Red Cross Kreisverband Herford-Stadt e.V. and its partners, including Hexagon Geosystems, are successfully carrying out pioneering work in the field of VR training and are already making digital training a reality today.


Contact us for more information about the use of laser scanning in VR education.


With 20 years of professional experience in marketing and business development, Malgorzata Krol works at Hexagon’s Geosystems division as Senior Marketing Manager EMEA Forensics leading the Public Safety, Forensics and Security marketing activities in the region. Her role also includes business intelligence analysis and the strategic market development within the public safety segment.

Prior to joining Hexagon, Krol worked at FARO Technologies as Senior Product Marketing Manager in the area of Public Safety and Forensics, Product Marketing Manager for 3D Documentation (Laser Scanning), International Distribution Manager as well as apprentice trainer. She is also an expert in CRM, Digital Marketing and Marketing Automation.

Krol started her career at the DaimlerChrysler Bank as Marketing Communication and CRM Project Manager, where she headed many international CRM-, and market research projects.>

She holds a master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the Poznań University of Economics and Business as well as a bachelor’s degree in Banking and Finance from the WSB University in Poznań (both: Poland). Among others, Krol has a certification in Forensic Psychology from The Open University in Milton Keynes (UK) as well as a certification in Forensic Science from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (Scotland). She is also a member of the International Public Safety and Security Association.