School Shooting Simulator in Development By Army, Homeland Security

"There's no winning, it's not a real game"

A new simulation in development by the United States Army and the Homeland Security Department is meant to help train teachers how to react during a school shooting.

The new simulation is being developed as part of the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE), an "online training environment for first responders." Last year they released a simulation in an effort to help first responders learn how to deal with a hostile situation. "[It was] created for responders to work together, which they can't do in real life, and [experience] how they would all work together in an active scenario," John Verrico, Chief of Media Relations at the Science & Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told Glixel in a phone interview. The simulation is used by 525 first responder agencies in 48 states, he adds.

“The more experience you have, the better your chances of survival are,” EDGE chief engineer Tamara Griffith told Gizmodo. “So this allows you to practice and have multiple experiences [and] know what works and what doesn’t work.”

EDGE's new scenario operates the same way, but in a school shooting scenario – an increasingly common issue in the United States. But one thing Verrico stresses is this simulation is not a game. "This is not a shooting simulator," he says. In fact, it can't even be obtained by you or I. EDGE's school shooting simulation is only obtainable by first responders or schools – and even then there's a vetting process to determine if a requester is indeed fit for the software.

"There's no winning, it's not a real game," Verrico says. "It's a way to practice and evaluate actions and protocols."

The simulation has three different playable characters: the teacher, the shooter and the responding police officer. In the former role, a player will attempt to calm scared children and figure out the best way to keep everyone safe. The shooter player is exactly what it sounds like, and the officer must find and kill the shooter.

To create this simulation, EDGE developers listened to real-world audio dispatches from deadly shootings such as Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook to incorporate a level of realism when in-simulation. Players can also lock doors and create barricades, learning different methods of survival. 

“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,” Griffith told Gizmodo. “And so we want to give them that chance to understand what options are available to them and what might work well for them.”

"[Teachers are] usually the first to respond," Verrico says. "By the time police get on the scene the action is already over, for the most part."

One of the more questionable features in this simulation is the inclusion of the shooter themselves. For an experience built around very realistic situations involving school shootings, it's surprising players are given the option to choose how they infiltrate a school and, more disturbingly, shoot innocent children and school workers. But Verrico says this decision was made in an effort to put a real person behind the gun, giving other players a chance to observe what a real-life shooter may be thinking, allowing them to figure out the best ways to avoid danger. A policeman or responder is typically playing the role of a shooter – not someone who may see this just as a video game. 

"We wanted to make everything playable because we didn't to make it a game," Verrico says. "We wanted to actually have real human thinking tactics."

According to Verrico, the simulation was made to be accessible for almost everyone. "We didn't go the virtual reality route," he says, "you can basically do this on your laptop."

The new simulation is expected to be available for free this spring.