Virtual and augmented reality can help meet the ever-changing and increasing threat of terrorism, according to a university academic.

Sheffield Hallam researcher Jonathan Saunders works in the field of ‘serious games’, videogame-like scenarios which aim to replicate those potentially found in the real world.

A major area of this is in training police forces, security personnel and paramedics how to respond to terror attacks.

There have been 45 terrorist attacks across Europe in the last two years and MI5 head Andrew Parker revealed at the weekend that such atrocities have been thwarted in Britain at the rate of one every month since the Westminster attack in March 2017.

The need to be prepared in the event of an attack is clear – and training with virtual terrorists could play a crucial role.

“With the number of terrorist-related incidents increasing, and the method of attacks evolving, regular proactive training that responds to these changing threats is becoming a necessity,” Saunders wrote in a post on academic blog platform The Conversation.

“Virtual reality helps to bridge this gap by providing a cost-effective and rapid training solution, and it is being used across the world.

“Serious games and virtual reality will one day be ubiquitous within training packages. But before then, the benefits of these technologies need to be explored and discussed further, because they hold remarkable potential.”

Saunders’ project AUGGMED – the Automated Serious Game Scenario Generator for Mixed Reality Training – is an online training platform which utilises both virtual and augmented reality.

AR overlays digital information on to the real world, whereas in VR users enter a fully immersive digital environment.

In March it was used by security officers with the Piraeus Port Authority in Greece to train for a terror-related incident. Using AR, on-site trainees in Piraeus worked alongside others based in another location who experienced the same scenario through VR.

An AUGGMED simulation was commissioned by the United Nations following an attack on an aid convoy which killed two members of its International Organisation for Migration in South Sudan.

AUGGMED has also been used by British police officers.

“With these new technologies we’re able to enhance decision making, situational awareness and emotional resilience during dangerous, threat-to-life scenarios,” wrote Saunders.

“Working alongside law enforcement agencies and United Nations organisations, our research into the use of serious games has led to us being able to successfully apply it to security training.

“As serious games and virtual reality technologies become standardised and accessible, their uses and benefits for training and learning are becoming more apparent.

“While certain sectors such as military and aviation have already been using these technologies for quite some time, it is only now that discussions around the usage of virtual and augmented reality technologies has reached the more traditional sectors such as law enforcement, construction and even food safety.”