Home Team taps VR to train officers for real-life situations

The training simulation system at the old Woodlands Checkpoint. Different simulated scenarios, such as an attack by gunmen, are played out on computer screens, and officers must coordinate their responses with one another.
The training simulation system at the old Woodlands Checkpoint. Different simulated scenarios, such as an attack by gunmen, are played out on computer screens, and officers must coordinate their responses with one another.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
A trainee prison officer attempting to engage with a virtual inmate during VR scenario-based training at the Home Team Academy in Choa Chu Kang.
A trainee prison officer attempting to engage with a virtual inmate during VR scenario-based training at the Home Team Academy in Choa Chu Kang.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Simulation system enables training without disruption to daily ops at prison service, ICA

Every few months or so, fights break out between prisoners in "Changi Prison" and inmates collapse to the ground while exercising in the prison yard.

Or at least that is what happens in the virtual prison, where new officers are trained to respond to such incidents.

The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) demonstrated two of their virtual reality (VR) simulation training sessions this week.

At the Home Team Academy in Choa Chu Kang, trainee prison officers must now go through a VR scenario-based training as part of their prison officer course.

Officers wear VR headsets and sensors on their feet as they interact with "prisoners" in a virtual prison modelled after the real Changi Prison. They are put through their paces and have to manage situations such as a fight in the prison yard, or a medical emergency.

Assistant Superintendent of Prisons Ivan Sum, a senior trainer with the SPS' training institute, said officers are trained to react as they would in a real-life situation.

For example, when a "prisoner" collapses to the ground, the officer has to simulate performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"With just a click of a button, we can get them to practise the scenarios again and again until they are confident, so that they can do the right thing when they are on the ground," said ASP Sum.

Trials for the VR system began in February last year and the SPS has since implemented it in its training for two batches of trainees.

At the old Woodlands Checkpoint, a command-and-control training simulation system has been used to train immigration officers since last March.

Different simulated scenarios, such as an attack by gunmen or a fire incident, are played out on large computer screens, and officers must coordinate their responses with one another. Just as in real life, officers have a "control room" where they oversee a simulated Woodlands Checkpoint.

 
 
 
 

When there is an incident, the officers must communicate the situation to their ground officers, who are based in a different room and view a simulated first-person perspective of the Woodlands facility on computer screens.

The ground officers view the simulation through individual computers that are configured to mimic the limited view that an officer at the scene might see.

The ground officers then practise navigating the virtual checkpoint with their mouse, and neutralise the virtual threats.

ICA Deputy Superintendent Au Mei Xian said the system helps the authority to bypass resource constraints, as it allows more officers to be trained without daily operations at the checkpoint being affected.

First Response Team Officer Sergeant 2 Anas Mohamed said another benefit is that the system allows them to practise in many different situations.

The system has 45 different scenarios for them to practise in, including incidents that have yet to occur here, such as an attack by a suicide bomber.

Said Sgt 2 Anas: "We won't be able to personally experience every type of incident, but we have to be prepared for all."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Home Team taps VR to train officers for real-life situations'. Print Edition | Subscribe