September 2023

Prosthetics students create life-like disaster scenarios in new approach to police training

By Killoran Wills and Melanie Hall

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A crime scene was brought to life when students from University College Birmingham were called on to assist West Midlands Police with their new approach to disaster training.

WMP Casualty Bureau asked MA Prosthetics for Film and Television students to create a realistic scenario to help train officers dealing with the recovery of bodies and body parts within a disaster environment.

Until University College Birmingham joined forces with the police, simulation training had only been conducted using limited and aging prosthetics and sandbag-type dummies. The officers’ training had not been subjected to the use of stage blood previously and this was a real game changer.

The scene was set for an explosion at a music festival and students Lianne Fellows, Caprice Whitehead and Princy Kushwaha dressed the set, giving them valuable hands-on experience in managing a project, interpreting a brief and executing it on location.

'True reflection' of disaster scenario

Julie Holland-Jones, Casualty Bureau and Disaster Victim Coordinator, was thrilled with the results and said it was as close as they had ever got to a real scene within a training scenario.

“The students were brilliant, bringing a wealth of ideas and vision to enhance the scene being created,” she said. “They worked diligently to tight time scales in order to start the exercise on time. Consideration by them, to the brief given, meant they exceeded our expectations.

“The prosthetics created by the students are incredibly life-like and a true reflection of today’s society, including differing skin tones, amazing identifying features such as tattoos and the inclusion of jewellery enhanced the detail for officers to record.

“The students were a credit to themselves and also to University College Birmingham.”

Disaster Victim Identification (DVI), an internationally recognised method of recovery is an important, albeit gruesome, aspect of police work which requires systematic, sensitive, dignified and respectful recovery of remains from disaster scenes for evidence-based identification of victims before being reunited with loved ones. 

Practical techniques learned by the students in their Casualty Simulation module were invaluable, enabling students to create bodies with a diverse range of skin tones and identifiable features such as tattoos, scars and jewellery.

The realism of the scene also prompted officers in training to consider the need for multiple PPE changes to avoid cross contamination, said Alexandra Wathey,  Senior Lecturer for Postgraduate Programmes - Creative Industries (BTCI), an important consideration that was not as apparent during training with older prosthetics and sandbag dummies.

“It was such a valuable collaboration for both parties and the students were excited to showcase their skills and rise to the challenge,” she said.

“What became apparent was that many people do not realise the extent and transferability of the skills that our prosthetic students have and as well as deceased simulations for DVI, bleeding casualties can be created on live people (or realistic dummies which can also be simulated to breathe or have fake beating organs etc), which opens up opportunities for more emergency services such as fire, ambulance and the armed forces to train too.

“From Madam Tussauds-like realistic mannequins to aliens, creatures and Theme-Park models, I am proud that our students can use their artistic talents, skills and knowledge to achieve brilliant creations for a vast range of scenarios.”

Find out more about University College Birmingham’s Prosthetics MA postgraduate degree and other related courses with the Department of Creative Industries.

In pictures: Our students' prosthetics work

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