--> Gill Blog: Video Games Simulate Disaster Response

Gill Blog

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Video Games Simulate Disaster Response

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding a series of computer games to help prepare health workers and other first responders facing bioterror attacks, nuclear accidents and pandemics, according to this report in Wired News

Backed also by Chicago's Department of Public Health, a University of Illinois at Chicago research team is developing a series of games that simulate health-related emergencies as well as biological, chemical, radiological and natural disasters.
"These games let people train on their own schedules," said Eric Holdeman, an expert in disaster relief and director of Washington state's King County Office of Emergency Management. "And it gets us away from death by PowerPoint in the typical classroom environment. It's also cost-effective."

The first game, which took three months to develop, trains health workers to respond to an anthrax outbreak. A massive flu pandemic simulation is in the works.

Players learn how to set up MASH sites, evaluate patients and dispense drugs. They also are trained to distribute medications to health-care sites and notify the public, instructing people on what to do -- without instilling panic.

Throughout the game, trainees' responses are scored for speed and appropriateness.

The game also helps health workers and volunteers cross-train for more than one job. Crisis teams are typically understaffed. The scoring helps players determine what they are good at and what skills they need to sharpen.

There are about 23 different roles for each crisis, and each scenario requires different training, explained Dr. Colleen Monahan, an epidemiologist and the simulations' lead programmer.
"Avian flu is a real challenge, because people will be really scared," she said. "Fifty percent of people who get avian flu die, regardless of age. Quarantines, keeping people away from each other, will be difficult. Our approach helps people train for multiple tasks and role-play with each other without the cost and on their own schedules."

Traditionally, health-care workers are trained by role-playing or watching videos. The simulations won't entirely replace conventional approaches, Monahan said, but they will shorten and focus the face-to-face training.

Stowe Boyd, a well-known "media subversive" as he calls himself, is an internationally recognized authority on real-time, collaborative and social technologies, and President/COO of Corante. Stowe has sussed out this video game, and presents some screen captures on his weblog column, as well. His take on disaster planning by video game role playing?
This is the sort of thing that I think is essential for preparing for the inevitable Disaster 2.0, like a bird flu pandemic, biological terrorism, or a 100 year storm hitting Manhattan. Instead of overbred bureaucrats holding endless planning sessions and writing voluminous reports about our lack of preparedness, the US Government or Bill Gates should throw a few tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into a massively parallel online game system where those who get to level 100 will get their college paid for, or $50,000/year, or some other NBA-level inducements. We could have millions of people learning what to do in an emergency, and the top 10% or 15% could make serioius coin.

And in the case of an emergency, when you are standing knee deep in the rising water in a New York City subway, and someone starts telling everyone what to do, you'd be much happier knowing that she is a level 100 adept of the Disaster 2.0 game instead of some political appointee with a flair for office politics.

Not unlike the military using video game simulations to prepare young men and women to respond in real time to unfamiliar situations and strange places under stressful circumstances.


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