Earlier this year, a Washington emergency services agency wrapped up its annual social media disaster preparedness game, the “30 Days, 30 Ways Preparedness Challenge.” Created by the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA), the game invites participants to complete one simple task each day aimed at training people to be more prepared for an emergency.

CRESA partners with local organizations to develop activities that foster conversations about preparedness between families, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Some businesses encourage employees to join the challenge to create a shared experience for their teams.

Participation in the game is growing

In the five years the game has run, approximately 10,000 readiness tasks have been completed by a range of players willing to learn about ways they can improve their responses to a disaster. According to The Columbian, the annual 30-day contest has attracted participants from more than 40 states and several countries. This year, the campaign focused on actions that encourage preparedness within a neighborhood.

“When people are prepared with the tools they need, and they understand preparedness, it makes it easier to get them to respond appropriately when the disaster is upon them,” says Tanja Fransen.

Fransen, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and their National Weather Service, heard about the #30day30ways Challenge from organizer Eric Frank. At NOAA, she helps communities and organizations promote ways to become ready for weather-related events. Fransen benefits not only from the practice she gets attempting the daily challenges, but also from seeing the creativity on display by other players.

“There are some people doing great things but not sharing it,” says Fransen. “The competition is an added incentive to play the game.”

For Thomas Bissland, joining the challenge was serendipitous. After a reference to the game showed up in his Facebook news feed, Bissland decided to take part as a personal mission to get and stay prepared. The challenge taught Bissland that good preparation mitigates fear of natural disasters.

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Playful tasks yield serious benefits

Playing a game is a great way to learn. Like CRESA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Strategic Command leveraged fictional narratives to address real skills in emergency preparedness. Zombie apocalypse scenarios engage citizens and first responders to practice the skills they would need in an actual emergency. The Go Game, a San Francisco company that runs corporate games, developed a disaster preparedness activity that provides resilience training in a fun and engaging way.

In the #30days30ways Challenge, CRESA posts a task to the community each morning, and players have until midnight at the end of the month to complete them. Responses are shared through social media, with winners announced at the end of the month. Special awards are doled out for creative posts. The daily assignments offered through the challenge are short and simple, but they are effective for developing sound disaster preparedness strategies.

“We know it adds up in building emergency kits, retrofitting homes, solar charging devices, generators … the list goes on,” says Frank, emergency management coordinator at CRESA. “By knowing your neighbors are prepared, or having plenty of item A, perhaps you can work on storing item B and so on.”

Through the activities, Bissland learned how to secure objects in earthquake-prone areas, which is now the case for Oklahoma, and prepare a nutritional meal from nonperishable food for the Emergency Kit Cook-Off.

“It was fun just thinking of a recipe from your head, and writing it down,” says Bissland. “I need to try it out sometime, and make sure it tastes and looks good.”

Small time investments invite participation

For Fransen, the best activities in the challenge were ones with relatable stories, particularly those that were later shared with her family at dinner. Discussions included meeting locations and making sure everyone knew how to access contact information if phone service is not working.

“It helps that they watch Walking Dead and other survival shows and can bring some creativity and ‘What ifs’ to the discussions,” says Fransen.

The timing of the contest encouraged Fransen, who won a preparedness kit for her car as a rookie participant in 2012, to create emergency kits for her family members in time for holiday travel. The packs include pouches of water, small shovels and flashlights.

Even though she managed to complete most of the challenges in previous years, Fransen indicated length of the activity was a factor in her lower level of participation this September. As a full-time working mother of two and a community volunteer, she found it difficult to devote more than 10 minutes to any given task. Bissland, too, struggled most with activities that required more time investment, such as creating videos to earn extra points.

“With two teenagers playing football,” recalled Fransen, “by the time I see them at night, I’ve forgotten the activity of the day I read about 12 hours ago.”

CRESA will take this into account when preparing for next September’s challenge, which will revolve around a different theme and reach a wider audience. Professionals and citizens alike can benefit from playing the daily games, creating safer communities when disaster actually strikes.

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