Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 18, 2013

How to be a disaster hero

Filed under: Disaster,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on June 18, 2013

Welcome to Disaster Hero.

That’s the title of an advertisement I saw in the June issue of the IAEM Bulletin. IAEM stands for the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Here’s a picture of the ad.

Disaster her add

You can play the game online, at no cost. Just click on this link. http://www.disasterhero.com/ (It took a while to load the first time, but subsequent runs don’t seem to take as long.)

Here’s what the FAQ file says about the game:

Disaster Hero is a free online game designed to teach children (grades 1 through 8), parents, and teachers/caregivers how to prepare for disasters. The overall goals are to ensure that players know what to do before, during, and after a disaster. Parents and teachers are included so that the family and school are familiar with the main concepts of disaster preparedness. Emphasis is placed on three steps – make a plan, get a kit, and be informed….

Disaster Hero covers four main topic areas: (1) basic preparedness steps – including get a kit, make a plan, and be informed – to be accomplished to protect the participant and family before, during, and immediately following a disaster or large-scale emergency event, (2) common disasters (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes), their associated danger signals, typical effects, common injuries, and appropriate responses, (3) basic quick-care tips and techniques for specific common injuries, and (4) basic information about geographic-specific disasters.

A 12 year old boy lives in my house. He is an avid gamer, and by avid I mean to the point where his mother occasionally searches Google for the difference between avid and addiction.

I asked him to play the Disaster Hero game and tell me what he thought about it. He avidly agreed.

I gave him the url and let him explore. What follows are summaries of the field notes I took while he was playing. Words in quotation marks are his, generally directed at the screen, as if no other humans were in the room with him.

There’s an option to register as a user, but he chose to play as a guest. That cuts the start time significantly.

Then you have to load the flash based game. It took about 5 minutes to load. Our broadband access is around 5 mbs; not especially fast. I wondered what the game demographic was. What kinds of kids have access to the internet at home and in school?

“This is taking forever. They really missed a marketing opportunity here. When Droid games load, they run crawlers that advertise other games you could buy. The people who put this game together could be telling people disaster facts while the game is loading. This is taking forever.”

The game opened to reveal a stage that looked like a mix of CNN, Fox News and the Price is Right.

“Oh God; it’s a game show.”

You select your age appropriate difficulty level: bronze, silver or gold. Then you pick a charter who will be your avatar, sort of like Skyrim and maybe tens of dozens of other games.

Next comes an overly long introductory narrative about a retired emergency manager who spent a lot of his career going from planet to planet helping out.

“I don’t care about all this talking. Let me play.”

The head hero (Dante) left the operational world to train the next generation of disaster heroes.

“This is so annoying.”

The action takes place on a planet that has lots of disasters caused by earth, wind, fire, and so on. But the primary theme, as the advertisement promised, is “make a plan, get a kit, be informed.”

There is a skip option, so you only have to listen to all the talking once. The rules are basic and simple.

“Oh my god. Just shut up.”

Next you pick someone to compete against: Techtonic, Tempest, Whirlwind and Dr. Deluge. Guess what disasters they represent.

Living in the northwest, subject to the whims of the Cascadia subduction zone, he selected Tectonic.

After more words from Dante, the first game starts. The player navigates on a jet pack through a worm hole to pick up disaster supplies (I think that’s what it was), competing against Techtonic to see who can score the most points.

Occasionally there are disaster related multiple choice questions: Such as “How can you tell when an earthquake will happen?” Eventually the player gets enough points to move on to the next stage.

Then more talk.

“This is so slow. I want to skip the talk, but I’m afraid if I do I’ll miss something important.”

The next part of the games consists of three rounds, based on Make a Plan, Get a Kit (the type face makes it seem like “Get A Hit”), and Be Informed.

The Make A Plan game starts with 16 sentences to read about how to make a plan and what to include in it. The words can also be read by the game.

“I’m not going to read all that.”

Once past the reading screen, you go to a picture of two rooms and you have to find the 10 differences between the rooms. Click on the missing item (like a telephone) and another lesson pops up — e.g., make a list of your contacts, and so on.

“This is tedious.”

After that game was over, he moved to the Get A Kit screen and found another long list of sentences, this time about the kit. Because of a Flash problem, the list included such items as “forget your pets,” “food when the electricity does not work,” and “medicine is lost.” But one could work through easily enough what the real list was.

Once that was done, the next game appeared. It consisted of 9 squares, each one containing an object that appeared for a few seconds then disappeared. Click, for example, on three decks of cards and you score points; plus you get a hint about keeping a deck of cards in your kit so you have something to do during disaster downtime.

Be Informed was the third game. After going through another list (“I’m not going to read that.”), there was a map of the United States, shovels, shields and red crosses, plus a news crawl at the top of the screen that said something about floods and earthquakes and other things. The player had to do something with the shovels and shields, but — without reading the directions — it was not clear what one was supposed to do. So Tectonic won that round.

Once that game was over, the player goes back to the Headquarters screen to receive congratulations and the news that there was another round coming up.

“I’m done.” he said, returning to his room. “I’m going back to Minecraft.”

A few hours later, before he went to bed, I asked him for his summary review of Disaster Hero. I asked him what score he would give the game if he were doing a review for something like IGN (a site that reviews games).

“I’d give it about a 6.5 on a scale of 10. Essentially it’s a bunch of moderately interesting mini games needlessly framed around how to prepare for a disaster. There are lots of mini games, but they are not especially interesting. The introductions to the sections are tedious. The sense of humor in the game is not amusing.”

I asked him what he learned about disasters from the game.

“Nothing that I can think of right now. I didn’t want to take the time to read all that stuff. I wanted to get right to the game. If I wanted to learn something about disaster preparedness I’d just search it online. I didn’t need to play a game to find out how to be prepared.”

Disaster hero color

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Comment by Donald Quixote

June 18, 2013 @ 10:12 am

This does pose an interesting question. What can you do for the short attention span theater generation to spark an interest in preparedness? If they look past the intended message for the immediate entertainment, is this really a valuable investment? It sounds like a noble attempt, but why prepare for the threat when your thumbs and senses are busy wasting your precious time? Knowledge and human interaction are so 1990s.

I am going out to feed my dinosaur.

Comment by Michael Mealer

June 18, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

I think they missed what would make an attractive avatar. Being the disaster and seeking out and destroying those that were not prepared would probably make the player a lot happier.
Be the tornado….or the teenage girl without cell phone access…or chocolate reserve.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 18, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

MOMs [maximum of maximum] events appear prominent in summer releases.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

June 19, 2013 @ 5:38 am

As Quixote states, “A noble attempt…” however falling short of the mark while also at least portraying a serious attempt to relate to a new generation of technologists who are indifferent to traditional values and the values of history, but setting their own technology paths unknown to us who watched the pyramids built and yes, even still feeding our dinosaur….

I see a generation which may be selfish and somewhat indolent in their ways, yet a bright new generation with technology reaching far beyond our generation’s limitation…the verdict is still out. Other than the outrageous government practices being led by this executive administration and allowed to continue without ramification, if we can remain with strong arsenal, America will thrive and lead the world if we can keep a thumb on both the Germans and the “Brutes of Tehran” as I refer to them.

This technology we see in the hands of youth today, well, there may be more merit that afforded….let’s hope so especially for their sake as this world is dangerous and so very corrupt. When our government is so corrupt, well, you can bet that the road ahead will be arduous and it will be technology which will be necessary to survive….

God Bless us all! I still believe that both Hillary and Barry should be under House arrest for suspicion of breach of faith, treason and we should ask the good folks at NSA to share Barry and Hillary’s calls during the “Benghazi Massacre” – no one is above the law, not even Ms. Hillary or Barry Obama.

Christopher Tingus
Cape Cod, MA

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