CEO of Digicel Foundation Penny Gomez using Virtual Reality glasses as she launches the "Master of Prep" app at the Digicel Store C3 Centre on Friday.

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With three-six major hurricanes forecasted in 2020’s above-average hurricane season, the Digicel Foundation launched its Masters of Prep game, aimed at teaching special needs students to identify and remedy potential hazards.

At yesterday’ launch at Digicel’s C3 Centre outlet in Ste Madeleine, CEO of the Foundation Penny Gomez said that with COVID-19 around, there is a dire need to extend this emergency preparedness app to all students to ensure a strong state of readiness.

Gomez said the teaching game is a first of its kind in the Caribbean. She said it would be used to train and educate administrators and students, and allow them a virtual hands-on experience in dealing with disaster scenarios.

It will also ensure awareness of the appropriate procedures and responses that are needed. “Masters of Prep forms an integral part of the Foundation’s ‘Preparing You’ disaster preparedness programme. It is a virtual reality game conceptualised by the Digicel Foundation and the ODPM team in collaboration with the Fire Service and administrators and teachers from our special needs schools to give students, with disabilities, the opportunity to practice real-world skills in a safe environment.

“As a technology-driven and capacity-building tool, the game was developed by Coded Arts as a generic enabler in facilitating disaster preparedness framing,” Gomez said.

In leading up to the launch, the game was tested in six schools among special needs students between the ages in six and 19. Foundation project officer Natalie-Anne De Silva said the game creates a simulated environment of the home and school. Because of the training, students would be able to identify hazards and make recommendations.

“There is a scenario on hurricanes and floods. Through that scenario, you can go through the home, knowing to board your windows, what you have to secure and see if there are any damages or leaks. The simulation exercises are both in the school and home, so the students are familiar with it, and it creates a safe environment. They go through and get themselves familiar with what disaster preparedness is about,” De Silva said.

Yesterday’s launch formed part of the Foundation’s ‘Preparing You’ project, which it launched in 2015. It is a disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation pilot project for persons with special needs. The Foundation collaborated with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and is co-funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Lady Hochoy School in Penal, Lady Hochoy School in Gasparillo, Pointe-a-Pierre Special School, Rio Claro Learning and Development Centre and Servol Happy Venture have all benefited from the project. With the Inter-American Development Bank’s innovation laboratory partnering, the project now reaches 18 schools nationwide.

During Phase 1 the Foundation and ODPM trained 31 special needs teachers and caregivers in disaster preparedness and evacuation strategies. The project is now in Phase 2, which includes the use of alternate teaching tools. The Foundation plans to upgrade school infrastructure and safety equipment in Phase 3.

Gomez said the programme was designed to extent potential and essentially life-saving capacity building in disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation capabilities. The Fire Service provided risk assessments for the project and the Red Cross Society trained teachers and caregivers in first aid and donated 100 first aid kits.

“The Foundation has introduced technology for training, content development and delivery. It is in the process of mapping critical data on targeted institutions for students and teachers/caregivers to ensure a prioritised and targeted response by the national agencies in the event of a disaster.”

The game is available on Google’s Play Store while the Foundation works to make it available on iOS devices.