Disaster in my backyard

Disaster in my backyard is an alternate reality game created by Alvin Coessens and me for the university of Tilburg. Each year the university hosts an ISCRAM-summer course for Phd-students in crisis management. We were tasked with the challenge of dropping about 30 students in a real life crisis situation we’re they would learn how to control a crisis hands-on.

We developed an alternate reality game which gives players a real life experience in crisis management.

The Phd-students were not aware that this exercise would take place. On a false agenda they were brought over by bus (coming from Tilburg in the Netherlands) to Campus Vesta in Ranst, Belgium.In the execution of the game, we had the help of the police academy that is located at Campus Vesta and the official B-Fast team.

# Scenario
The elements of the game and the scenario are based on the real life experience of the B-Fast team, which happened on social media during the Pukkelpop disaster in 2010 and theoretic models of crisis management.

We developed the scenario of a big storm that would hang over Ranst that would turn nasty for the local civilians. The authorities were already doing everything they could, but it was all very chaotic. Luckily, a bus of crisis managers were approaching the disaster area and are ready to help.

The students were divided into 4 groups and would have the following tasks: (1) manage the online information flow and social media, (2) locate supplies on the terrain and (3) locate, help and evacuate victims out of the disaster area.

The game consists out of eight levels in total. Each levels adds an extra element or focus to the crisis to make the game harder. For example, in level 4 the massive amount of water had hit an electricity cell which resulted in a complete power failure. For this we shutted the lights on the entire terrain leaving the students in the dark until they rebooted the electricity cell. We kept an overview of the levels in our “puppet master control room”. There we would release new levels and give orders to people making things happen in the background.






# Gameplay
Each team had to divide themselves into a few members staying in the “command center” and some members going out in the field. The team members in the command center had to closely monitor twitter, Facebook and news sources for updates, people reaching out for help and other events taking place. They had to use Ushahidi, which is an open source crisis management tool, to keep an overview of what was happening. They could then brief their team members in the field about the updates and send them to locations to help.

De team members in the field had to use a mobile application to scan victims and items. For example they could scan a victim to see his stats (health, panic and time alive if nothings done). They could then scan a health pack to add to his health and safely evacuate him.



# Making it immersive
To make it feel real, we used sound effects like police sirens, alarms and water and fire sounds. We also experimented with lightning installations to make it feel just right. The fire department of Antwerp joined our game and set a real house on fire and saw it as a good exercise to extinguish the fire.

The victims described above were played by around 30 volunteers who we each gave a specific acting role. Apart from those 30, another 20 people were doing all sorts of things in the background to make the game feel realistic.


The game was played for 6 hours straight and started at 21:00 so it would take place in the dark. The students didn’t know what was happening to them but immediately went for it completely. The game has been considered a success and is since 2012 an official part of the ISCRAM-course.


Below you can find a gallery of some photos that were taken during the game as well as a video that captured the event.