• Abigail Hall

Here’s how to experience a virtual reality natural disaster this weekend

Originally published by Wichita Eagle July 25, 2019.

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a virtual reality natural disaster — you’ll have the chance on Saturday and Sunday.

The Mennonite Disaster Service is touring universities and conferences with its Storm Encounter trailer, a mobile multi-sensory theater where participants experience a tornado simulation.

The Storm Encounter will be open for the public to experience at Bethel and Hesston colleges on Saturday and Sunday.

Once entering the trailer, participants will feel, see, touch and hear the wind, rain, thunder and destruction associated with a tornado.

The simulation begins with a six-minute animated video of a tornado destroying a home in a prairie, said Jesse Huxman, communications director.

The eight theater-style seats will vibrate, followed by simulated thunder, wind from a turbine blowing through the trailer and water mist falling from the ceiling, Huxman said.

After the animation is over, the video fades to show footage of the organization’s disaster relief projects over the past several years.

Huxman said the Storm Encounter is intended to encourage people to volunteer with the Mennonite Disaster Service, a faith-based organization that responds to natural disasters across the nation.

Huxman said last year the organization had 5,500 volunteers nationwide helping re-build homes destroyed by tornadoes and other disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes and flooding.

“We believe that’s part of our Mennonite and Anabaptist faith,” Huxman said. “To uphold each other and lift each other up in times of crisis.”

In July, 800 people experienced the Storm Encounter at a Mennonite church conference in Kansas City and “seemed to enjoy it,” Huxman said.

The Storm Encounter will be open to the public from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday at Bethel College, near the administration building, for a family fun night. In addition to the trailer, the college will provide bounce houses and other family-friendly activities, Huxman said.

The experience will also be open to the public from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday at Hesston College, near the Keim Center.

Bethel College is at 300 E. 27th St., North Newton, and Hesston College is at 301 S. Main St., Hesston.

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