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Game Teaches Kids About Disaster Reduction (Perhaps Some Adults, Too)
Eleanor Lang, 12 Oct 07
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A game can't really protect you from a flood, and Stop Disasters can't prevent natural disasters -- but it teaches kids the basic urban planning that can save lives and reduce the impacts of a natural disaster. Stop Disasters is free and it's Flash (so nothing to download). While it has on-site information for educators from kindergarten through high school, it's probably most appropriate for the 8 to 13-year-old crowd, who usually don't watch CNN, read The New York Times, or have an understanding of topography and building materials in other parts of the world.

Stop Disasters is a bit like a disaster-focused, diet version of Sim City, which designer Will Wright maintained was not a game but (as the name implies) a simulation. If Stop Disasters is a simplistic simulation, it's still perfect for its audience; short, with clear goals and the methods to achieve them, and results presented in a way that's easy to read and understand. The site also contains fact sheets on each major type of natural catastrophe represented in the game; information on building materials, terrain and basic concepts of public safety; and links and a list of the worst disasters in the 20th century.

There are five scenarios in the Stop Disasters game: flood, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, and wildfire. Each level is timed at 25 minutes, and each gives the player a budget of $50,000. There are also three possible map sizes for each scenario, which translate into three different difficulty levels, since the time constraint remains the same. The mechanics to avoid disaster in each natural catastrophe scenario are nearly identical. The player must build a school and a hospital, protect the infrastructure, make sure there is sufficient housing for area residents and reinforce buildings in vulnerable areas -- all of which is accomplished with a simple click of the mouse. Of course, there are some differences: in the flood scenario, the player must cover all wells, while in an earthquake area, retrofitting is most important, and on the hurricane-prone Caribbean island the seaport and shore need to be reinforced. After the disaster has struck, there's a newspaper page with a story about the disaster, and a report with a score based on death count, property damage, and completion of mission tasks.

This game isn't for very little kids. There's no way to prevent the oncoming natural catastrophe, and while you can minimize the damage, there is no way to avoid it completely. Even at the easiest level, it can be very difficult to accomplish the most obvious tasks within both the time or budget constraints; I found that I had enough money to minimize the effects of a flood, but ran out of time; in the earthquake simulation, I ran out of money long before the time was up. Despite the inherent grimness of these scenarios, there are victories that will keep players going: the newspaper and report tell the player what aspects of his or her planning saved lives, and it's possible to grasp the game concepts easily and make a difference. For the player who thinks he or she has learned enough to do better, there is also the option of playing the scenario over again immediately.

Stop Disasters was developed for International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), an organization that is part of the United Nations initiative to provide links between and coordinate disaster reduction activities around the world. The organization works on the assumption that while natural hazards, such as hurricanes, can't be stopped, careful planning and sound construction can minimize the loss of both life and livelihood they may cause. ISDR conducts disaster reduction activities and sponsors roundtable discussions and education around the world.

Stop Disasters may not be a game in the true sense, but it's a teaching tool, and a good one. Children will learn far more in a half an hour with this interactive activity than they would from a textbook or a classroom lecture. Some adults may find it simplistic...although then again, it might help key managers at FEMA to have a go with this simple teaching tool.*

* [For our international readers: the none-too-effective US Federal Emergency Management Agency. -- Ed.]

Image: From a video on the Stop Disasters Game web site.

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Posted by: Kate on 13 Oct 07

She just forgot to put the http:// in front of the, so your browser tried to take you there on Worldchanging.

Try and it should work.

Posted by: Nate on 13 Oct 07

She just forgot to put the http:// in front of the, so your browser tried to take you there on Worldchanging.

Try and it should work.

Posted by: Nate on 13 Oct 07

I wound up typing into the browser, and that worked. Hopefully the link will be fixed, though.

Posted by: Kate on 13 Oct 07



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