J51.3 Communicating Rip Current Risk with a Virtual Reality Video Game

Wednesday, 15 January 2020: 3:30 PM
257AB (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Jase Bernhardt, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY; and G. Dusek and A. Hesse

Rip currents are among the deadliest phenomena to influence beachgoers in the United States, yet few members of the public have an adequate understanding of their risk, nor the appropriate actions to take when caught in one. To improve public literacy, a virtual reality (VR) video game was created, in which participants were trained on how to swim in the ocean and wave for help, and then placed in a rip current without warning. The VR game and an associated survey was shared with Atlantic Ocean beachgoers on Long Island during summer 2019. The actions taken and binary outcome (escaped the rip current or drowned) were recorded for each participant. Those results were also compared to demographic data and factors such as swimming ability and frequency visiting ocean beaches. Moreover, a post-survey interview was conducted with each participant, in which they identified the least and most helpful aspects of the VR video game, and discussed its overall efficacy in enhancing rip current understanding. Preliminary analysis indicates that the deployment of VR in this manner can decrease rip current risk by demonstrating proper actions to take in a novel and memorable way. This effectiveness, however, varies considerably between different demographic groups. Nevertheless, it is clear that VR and similar immersive technologies have the potential to enrich public outreach activity relating to atmospheric and oceanic hazards. Future work can capitalize on the data gathered in this study to develop even more nuanced and interactive simulations of such events.
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