Jerry Allen, Director CrisisVR, was recently interviewed by AeroInside Magazine and shared his thoughts on training, crisis management and the aviation industry.
What is your mission? What problem does CrisisVR solve for your clients?
The CrisisVR mission is to provide companies, chiefly aviation companies, with greater choice in the way that training is prepared and delivered. Training has traditionally been delivered face-to-face in a classroom environment. We continue to provide such training but the overall training scenery has changed and so much training has now moved online. This was not driven by COVID although the impact of the pandemic on the travel sector has forced companies to accelerate their move to alternative, travel free, training programmes. CrisisVR gave companies what they wanted: experienced, professional trainers who packaged their knowledge into e-learning courses. We went even further. Companies wanted a way to replicate in e-learning some of the interactivity and role-play of traditional training. That is the Virtual Reality part of CrisisVR and its potential is very exciting. Of course, many of our e-learning courses do not need VR and are specially designed to allow companies to train large numbers of people, very economically and without the scheduling challenges that typically accompany face-to-face training.
What’s your background and how did you evolve into your current role?
I suppose I have been around aviation or crisis or both all my adult life. The first accident I was involved in was 1980 at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, when a Cyprus Airways freighter made a wheels up emergency landing. Nighttime exaggerated the drama. The response, to escort the shaken but otherwise uninjured crew to the Officers’ Mess for a beer, may not accord with current practice but it had its own merits. After a long career in the Royal Air Force, I joined IATA to support the airlines’ programme of crisis management best practice standards. Even today it is difficult to nail down true ‘standards’ for response to complex emergencies but IATA and many far-sighted airlines certainly set the bar. I then joined an international disaster management company. This was not a consultancy but a logistically organized company that responded directly to support airlines and other industries following an incident. I was personally involved in several high-profile accidents and international emergencies and this experience had a profound effect on my next career change. In setting up CrisisVR Ltd, I wanted to make the things that I had learned and the experiences of friends and colleagues available for the education and preparation of others. As an old friend of mine once said about crisis training, “there is nothing new to teach about crisis management, it is just new people to learn old lessons”.
VR, as short for Virtual Reality, has been around for some time, but broad adoption has not occurred yet. However, we’re seeing highly specialized VR solutions such as CrisisVR gaining traction. Do you see other VR solutions taking place within the aviation industry?
VR in aviation has been around for longer than we might think. All modern flight simulators, for example, are highly advanced examples of VR. Many airlines also conduct a lot of technical training using VR and this is certainly on the increase. CrisisVR, however, is focused on management training, a sector very new to the concept of both professional e-learning combined or otherwise with VR experiences. Aviation is currently reassessing its operational priorities and the necessity to continue to deliver excellence as efficiently and economically as possible is paramount. Management training, no longer ring-fenced, is adjusting to technical solutions and at CrisisVR we must keep ahead of the demand.
Elsewhere in aviation, we are regularly surprised by the imagination of clients who think of possible VR training solutions before we do. For example, we were recently discussing the use of e-learning with VR for airport security training. Using 360° filming in a real airport terminal (thank you to London Luton Airport) we can provide airport walk throughs for security guard basic training in threat identification. VR, however, comes into its own when simulating person-to-person communication scenarios; supporting distressed families, angry passengers, lost children, cultural sensitivities… the list is endless.
Looking back, crisis reaction preparation and training has been ramped up in aviation after every major incident. What industries could learn from aviation in this regard and how?
What a great question. It is in the DNA of aviation to learn from every incident, not to immediately look for blame and also to share lessons with the industry as a whole. I’ll turn your question around, ‘what industry would NOT learn from this approach?’ This reminds me of industry comparisons drawn by Matthew Syed in his excellent book, ‘Black Box Thinking’. This book alone should be essential reading for anyone involved in safety, security or compliance.
To answer the question directly, healthcare has to be top of my list. Amazing people, total dedication to their profession but often let down by the management systems that support them.
What’s your favourite form of travel and with what airplane to which destination would that be?
That’s a loaded question! I suppose I should answer ‘flying’ but with a qualification. It’s not the flight itself (irrespective of travel class) but the excitement of the destination. I am so fortunate to have seen so many wonderful places. Other forms of travel are great fun but don’t, for me, have the range of possible destinations, certainly not as quickly. Some of the modern aircraft configurations are amazing, so spacious and bristling with technology. A favourite would have to be upstairs in business class on a 747, a top of the world experience, unfortunately a rapidly dwindling option. Destination? Bermuda!