A unique online strategy game developed by UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) teaches young people about how different kinds of disasters, including earthquakes, floods and forest fires, impact communities.  ‘Stop Disasters’ is in effect a disaster reduction simulation that emphasises the importance of built infrastructure (retrofitting buildings for earthquakes) as well as communications in reducing the number of lives lost and economic damage caused by large-scale disasters.

Here are a few screenshots illustrating the interactivity of the game and the challenges of actually implementing appropriate safety and hazard mitigation measures.  As in the ‘real world’ your budget is limited and you are probably allowed far more than many developing urban communities have for emergency planning and disaster reduction, but even with this you have to plan very carefully when anticipating a large quake, flood or forest fire.  In the earthquake simulation one of the challenges is actually building enough houses to provide everyone with a place to live along with adequate public facilities such as schools and hospitals.

Here’s a look at what my town looked like before the earthquake.  As you can see there are many people who are in need of housing or shelter:

Unfortunately, the first go I spent so much time on retrofitting buildings that when an earthquake came along I realised I had not built any homes to house all of the people!

This left quite a lot of devastation, although perhaps not as much as an actual large magnitude earthquake.  In the image above there is a ‘Early Warning System’ that counts down the seconds till the earthquake occurs.  While it is incredibly difficult to predict when earthquakes will occur early warnings can be given in the case where a quake can be detected prior to significant shaking on the ground.  Elarms are currently in place in Japan, USA, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey and Romania.

The second time around I did a bit better.  I managed to house everyone who needed shelter and retrofitted a large number of buildings, but unfortunately ran out of money.  The number of deaths decreased, but there were still quite a few injuries likely due to the fact that I neglected bulldozing a group of old houses that were in need of repair as I couldn’t afford to build new ones.  But hey it’s about learning right?  Looking at the high scores, the kids clearly managed much better than me so there’s clearly hope for the future.  Combining strategy simulation games with education on preparing for disasters is definitely an attractive way of getting young people interested. It is also a good starter for science education (both physical and social) on natural hazards, while encouraging thinking about ways to prepare for and mitigate them.

Play ‘Stop Disasters’ online at http://www.stopdisastersgame.org/en/playgame.html.