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How to Use Simulator Training to Decrease COVID Risks

 

This is not our last pandemic. Even with viable vaccines beginning to reach people, COVID itself will be with us for a long time, as will similarly infectious diseases. Fortunately, simulator training technology helps transit agencies reduce a spectrum of risks—not just those that pop up behind the wheel.

COVID hasn’t just complicated mass transit operations—which so often rely on close-quarters and high-density in order to be efficient. COVID safety also creates training challenges.

For example, during behind-the-wheel training, agencies are stuck with several bad options. Either:

  1. The instructor and several students are all huddled close together at the front of the bus, or
  2. The instructor and behind-the-wheel student are at the front and the remaining students are so “socially distant” down the length of the bus that there is virtually no instructional value for them, or
  3. Instructors are forced to run extremely inefficient one-on-one BTW training sessions, with a single student and instructor in the vehicle.

During a recent webinar on effective mass transit training strategies, Russell Nikiforuk (manager for Operator and Technical Training at Coast Mountain Bus Company in Vancouver) raised this issue, and noted how simulation training can help untangle this knot:

“In the world of COVID-19, everyone is very conscious of safety measures and safety protocols. The simulator very much lends itself to doing [training] sessions safely.”

COVID-Safe Simulator Technology Using “Remote Viewing”

Because simulator training is such a flexible tool, it allows for many different training strategies that can increase student engagement, even as they reduce COVID risk.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is the fifth-largest transit authority in the U.S., with more than a decade invested in using simulator training. They’ve used their simulator’s built-in “Instructor Viewer Mode” to increase COVID-safety without compromising the quality or efficiency of their training.

The Viewer Mode is generally intended as a way for the instructor to monitor a student during a training session while simultaneously controlling the simulation scenario, fine-tuning the experience to put that student through their paces. But it’s also a powerful teaching tool in its own right.

MBTA currently runs group sessions of six to nine people. This number can be safely socially distanced in their classrooms (which are also equipped with large monitors). Each session begins in the classroom and then students begin cycling into the simulator. As a single student drives the simulation, the remainder of the class follows along on the large monitors—which can dynamically switch between among several views, including the driver’s point-of-view, a bird’s-eye-view, and a picture-in-picture mode showing both the simulation and the student operator’s actions. This gives the trainees an opportunity to vicariously experience the simulation while also taking an objective view of how one of their coworkers is performing under pressure.

“While one student is driving the simulator,” explains Billy Cameron, MBTA’s Superintendent of Bus Training, “the rest of the students are watching on the [large screen] monitors. They’re watching with a bird’s eye view, or many different views we can have. … We can have a lesson that everyone can learn” without having to share a confined space.

Simulator Training Technology and Solutions

The hallmark of a good simulation-based training program is that it has the flexibility to meet new challenges. When MBTA first invested in their sims in 2006, no one had conceived of a situation like what we’ve all experienced over the last year. To learn more about how to integrate engaging, flexible, and adaptive simulation into your training program, check out our webinar and free downloadable ebook.