Tuesday Oct 01, 2013

Gamification of Disaster Recovery?

For the last few weeks, I've had the title of this blog floating through my head, thinking about how I might work that into a blog post.  The reason stems from recent events where I live, Boulder CO.  For those of you who don't follow the news, Boulder was hit by what has been called a 1000 year rain and a 100 year flood.  We got more rain in about 2.5 days than we usually get in a full year.  We more than doubled the previous record for the most rain in a single month--more than 18".  And here's the thing, when that much water comes down in a short period of time, the creek floods.  A lot. The sewer system backs up.  You suddenly are forced to remember high school chemistry/biology lessons on osmosis, when the water pressure in the ground makes the concrete in your basement into a sieve and water starts forcing itself in.

There are a lot of photos in the article linked to above, but here are a few that I took.  The first shows the flood waters raging in the creek, and a park bench on which part of a tree came to rest.

Boulder Creek after the worst of the flooding

This next one shows some ripped out trees, but also the blue-green post in the background on the right is a flood monument.  The lowest bar is a 50 year flood, the next one up is the 100 year mark, which shows how high the water got at its peak.  Above that is the 500 year flood and above that even, the Big Thompson Flood.  In the case of the Big Thompson, the amount of rain we got in a few days hit in a few hours.

Boulder Creek by the Flood Monument

In my own neighborhood, which isn't in a flood plain and not near Boulder Creek, there was some pretty spectacular flooding.  This picture shows the effects on a fence and a car that got carried down a street and slammed into a fence.  Somewhat ironically, the car came to rest under a sign that says "cash 4 junk cars".

Boulder High Softball field Flood-carried car

After the flooding ends, there's the recovery period.  This was a common site in my neighborhood, huge piles of wet carpet, drywall and ruined furnishings.  My neighborhood got lucky, relatively speaking.  A neighborhood away had a sewage block and had raw sewage spewing into houses.  Other neighborhoods had mudslides.  Towns nearby were cut in half or have had their only road access cut off.  But the bummer is that a lot of people discovered that their insurance wasn't going to cover the damage because they didn't live in a flood plain, so they didn't have flood insurance.  Or they had damage caused by something other than flooding, but since flooding was the cause of the other events (rockslides and mudslides), it wasn't covered.

Flooded contents of a house

So what's this got to do with Gamification?  In an earlier post, I talked about gamification of blood donation.  And I keep thinking that I wonder how gamification could be applied to disaster recovery.  Not sure people would like getting badges for the most destroyed contents of their house or biggest FEMA check or numbers of trips to the dump (we rented a truck and made 6, hauling our stuff and helping friends and neighbors with theirs), but maybe you could gamify volunteer opportunities?  As is typical for flooding and other disasters, some folks get hit and others don't.  Those that don't often want to get out there to do something to help, but aren't sure what to do.

I was talking to a volunteer coordinator for Community Food Share and he was saying that he was getting tons of calls from people who wanted to help.  So many that he didn't have enough work lined up that he could bring volunteers in for--but that it was too bad not to be able to point them to something they could do.  Maybe a system could gamify connecting people to volunteer opportunities in their areas?  Could social networks help connect individuals to other individuals who needed something?  I keep thinking about how I would define the business objectives here, and how gamification could move people from the kind-of-thinking-about-helping to actually-helping.  One problem is knowing what you could do, the other is connecting you to the opportunity.  So it's sort of an onboarding task, you come into the system and it helps you navigate and participate.

Another possibility would be getting people signed up with FEMA.  I was trying to walk my reasonably tech-savvy 83-year old neighbor through signing up with FEMA's website, http://www.disasterassistance.gov/  and kept thinking that it could benefit from some game mechanics for feedback, progress and achievement (that aside, kudos to FEMA--they got out fast, the people were really heldful and cut checks really quickly).

These are only half-baked ideas, but when I was discussing the notion of gamification and blood donation with @benserviss, @daverage and @gamificationco, I could see a lot of potential there.  Maybe there's a way to create something meaningful for the next disaster and its community...

Any thoughts?


All things gamification, mostly focused on the Enterprise space but occasionally on other issues related to gamification. Thoughts are my own.


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