May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Stop Disasters! | The Gaming Life

Gaming programs can help disseminate vital information to the community

Every year, natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes wreak havoc all over the world. And South Carolina is no exception. Hurricane Hugo, a devastating category 5 hurricane, struck coastal South Carolina in 1989 causing $4.2 billion in damage. Education and preparedness are keys to survival, and libraries can help disseminate that vital information.

I manage the Bunnelle Youth Technology Series (BYTES) at the Georgetown County Library in South Carolina. The program was created as a way to engage youth by offering classes at the library and incentive-based entertainment. All school-aged youth can participate in our educational sessions, but to enjoy the benefits of the video game resources or play in tournaments, they must receive good grades in school or come to the library and earn play time by reading.

In the spring of 2009, Dwight McInvaill, the Georgetown County Library director, invited me to participate in the Georgetown County Hurricane Project, an ICMA Public Library Innovation grant funded program created to help educate the community while recording the devastation of Hurricane Hugo. The Hurricane Project was tasked with organizing hurricane-related events and creating 150 video interviews as well as public service announcement videos informing the local community about hurricanes, hurricane safety, and the impact of hurricanes on the Coastal Carolina region.

“We conducted hurricane interviews at the Georgetown, Andrews, and Waccamaw Branches, with 16 kids participating in Georgetown, 7 kids in Andrews, and 6 at Waccamaw,” reflects Heather Pelham, the Hurricane Project Manager. “The BYTES kids also shot two hurricane public service announcements which were ultimately the most popular of the ten-commercial set.” The interviews were recorded to keep a record of the impact hurricanes have had on the Coastal Carolina region with a spotlight on Georgetown County.

As a result of the project, BYTES participated in a Hurricane party where we displayed the videos our youth helped create and held an off-site Stop Disaster Games Marathon. To host Disaster Game Night, we needed to gather a selection of games and activities and make our community aware of the project. Heather Pelham came up with a great lead–“This summer is going to be a disaster”–and we circulated fliers and press releases to the local schools, newspapers, and interest groups.

Video Games

One of our most valuable resources in Disaster Game Nights was the Stop Disasters! game (, a free game created by International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Players use a variety of tools to prepare an area to survive a disaster. As the game begins, players select a type of disaster and then are given a scenario and objectives leading to success. During the game, players earn points by performing actions that reveal “Key Facts,” that teach them how to use risk assessment maps and learn about the value of emergency facilities, training, and early warning systems. At the end of play, they receive a score and a session report. If they meet the objectives, they receive a certificate of achievement.

The Stop Disasters! game events were a great addition to the Georgetown Library Family Game Nights. In addition to providing a gaming experience, it allowed us to establish a global context, giving us an opportunity to talk to the kids about the game’s objectives and how it relates to the world at large. The inclusion of a competition element and prizes generated excitement. With our monthly video game tournament program building momentum, the Disaster Game Night was an instant success with the kids. Parents were very supportive when they saw that game night included games that raised social consciousness as well as entertainment games.

Board Games

While the excitement focused around Stop Disasters!, with only six computers we had to offer other activities to interested participants. I researched the limited number of games related to hurricanes and expanded my search to include all disaster-related board games, and even games that could be altered to meet our needs.

Not only can board games raise awareness, they can offer kids an opportunity to learn and conduct research. For example, during one day of our summer 2010 programming, we held a special event using Wits and Wagers and Say Anything by North Star Games ( as the focus. Wits and Wagers is a trivia game and Say Anything is an opinion-oriented party game. Youth researched questions and answers, and we did a group game show style event where everyone wrote down their responses and were judged according to the rules of the game. All of the questions that had dates or numbers as answers were part of Wits and Wagers, such as: “How many hurricanes have hit South Carolina in the last 100 years?” For Say Anything, the responses are qualitative and the questions were a bit more diverse, such as: “How would you prepare your home for a hurricane?”

We suggested sites for them to do their research, including the Stop Disasters! website, and had them cite their sources. Having been previously exposed to both games and the hurricane program, they did a great job.

Games for a Disaster Night

Terra. Days of Wonder. 3-6 players. Playing time: 30 min. Ages: 8 Up.
Players collaborate to save the Earth from a variety of natural and manmade disasters while also looking after their own interests.

Category 5. Asmodee, Endless Games, U.S. Game Systems. 2-10 players. Playing time: 45 min. Ages: 8 Up.
This card game is themed on hurricanes in name only. Still, we used it to enhance the overall hurricane game night experience. Plus, it’s the kind of game families could play when riding out the storm.

Ablaze! Mayfair Games. 1-4 players. Playing time: 30 min. Ages: 10 Up.
Even though the game, which is actually three games in one box, deals with fires rather than hurricanes, it was a timely addition to our Disaster Game Nights because we had dangerous grass fires in the Coastal Carolina area. Three good games in one box made this an excellent addition to our game night.

Pandemic. Z-Man Games. 2-4 players. Playing time: 60 min. Ages: 10 Up.
Players work together to save mankind from the devastation of rampant diseases. This is a very popular cooperative game that teaches both geography and how to work with others to solve a problem.

Measuring Outcomes

During the course of the Hurricane Project grant, we ran 12 Disaster Game Nights at the Georgetown Library. Since the completion of the Project, we have held two quarterly Disaster Game Nights in conjunction with Family Game Time, and plan to offer them monthly over the summer.

The results of the Disaster Game Nights were primarily measured in periodic interviews with participants. After the games, we inquired what they had learned playing Stop Disasters! As their proficiency at the game increased, the responses were more sophisticated and showed greater understanding of how to prepare their cities to survive.

Implementing a focused game program can be as easy as researching free educational games to play on the computers in your library. With a little additional effort, sites like,, or Games for Educators ( can help you find games specific to your needs.


Board Game Geek:
The largest and most complete board game reference on the Internet.

Board Game Geek Gaming in Libraries Guild:
Hosts special interest groups for game enthusiasts. Though lightly used, it’s a good place for librarians to get feedback on gaming programming.

Games For
One of the best sites on the Internet focused on games for educators.

Games in Libraries Podcast:
The audio show about utilizing games in libraries. On hiatus, but starting up again soon.

On Board
A board game podcast produced by Donald Dennis and co-hosted by Scott Nicholson and Erik Dewey. Round tables cover starting a gaming group, game design, and related topics.

Teachers Using Games:
Another Board Game Geek guild focusing on using games in school.

Donald Dennis is the B.Y.T.E.S. Program Coordinator with the Georgetown County Library in South Carolina.