Welcome, Mayor—Now Here Comes the Hurricane

Welcome, Mayor—Now Here Comes the Hurricane | Environmental Law Institute
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Welcome, Mayor—Now Here Comes the Hurricane
Monday, October 8, 2018
Sam Koenig
Research Associate
What would you do if your job was to manage a small coastal community besieged by job loss, irate voters, hurricanes, oil spills, and
hipsters? Here’s a way to nd out: boot up your laptop or tablet and check out ELI’s new “serious game,” Digital Cards Against
In the wake of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Harvey, and Florence, which have resulted in an es mated total of over 3,200 deaths and more
than $375 billion in damage, nding ways to increase a community’s “resilience IQ” should be a na onal priority. Knowing that a game
has the poten al to reach much broader audiences than does an academic journal ar cle or policy brief (and can also provide
important data to policymakers on public awareness and decisionmaking), in 2017 the Environmental Law Ins tute and 1st Playable
Produc ons launched Cards Against Calamity, a so-called serious game designed to be not only entertaining, but also educa onal.
This month, ELI and 1st Playable Produc ons have taken Cards Against Calamity online by conver ng the award-winning board game
into a digital format. In this new game, the player takes on the role of mayor and must keep the town running while managing both
shocks, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and stresses, such as aging infrastructure and water pollu on. While the web-based
version is single-player—as opposed to the board game, in which 2-4 people had to work as a team—the player s ll must balance the
needs of di erent stakeholder groups if they are to succeed. Players can currently simulate running towns in New England or on the
Paci c Coast, with more regions coming soon.
What’s This About Resilience?
About now, you may be wondering, “what is it that players are actually learning about?” The answer is “community resilience,” which
has come into the spotlight in recent years as a paradigm for disaster prepara on and response. Businesses, nongovernmental
organiza ons, and federal, state, and local government agencies of all scopes and scales have incorporated resilience into their own
opera ons or developed guides to help other organiza ons do so. Di erent focuses of resilience have similarly proliferated. Among
the many new approaches, coastal, urban, and climate resilience have sought to apply the tenets of community resilience to di erent
contexts. (This is but a small sampling of the range of resilience op ons: pick any similar eld, plug it into Google followed by
“resilience,” hit enter, and you’ll be met with no shortage of links.)
Despite (or perhaps because of) this recent increase of interest in resilience, li le consensus exists as to what resilience actually
means. A literature review published in February of 2017 reviewed 80 relevant papers and iden ed as many as 72 unique de ni ons
of community resilience, no ng that “there was no evidence of a common, agreed de ni on of community resilience.” Moreover, this
gure is taken solely from the academic literature and says nothing of the range of understanding likely held by the general populace;
it is also certain to have grown in the 18 months since it was published.
This lack of conceptual clarity is especially relevant now a er a spate of natural disasters has evinced the insu ciency of many
communi es’ resilience. (Consider not just the aforemen oned hurricanes, but events such as wild res and terrorist a acks.) Greater
Welcome, Mayor—Now Here Comes the Hurricane | Environmental Law Institute
community resilience—in the sense of the ability of the community to help those who need it most, such as people who cannot a ord
to evacuate or are otherwise unable to prepare adequately for an impending disaster—is clearly necessary. And, I submit, an improved
awareness and understanding of community resilience is crucial to actually improving community resilience. While plenty of ink has
been spilled on the topic, it is evident that people either are not reading or are not ac ng upon the profusion of resilience research.
Cards Against Calamity is an a empt to bridge the gap between resilience theory and prac ce by pu ng knowledge into the hands of
the general public.
The goal, of course, is not to turn players into resilience experts capable of singlehandedly protec ng their communi es from disaster
overnight. Rather, the hope is that they will come away from the game with a greater understanding of the role resilience can play in
helping a community withstand disaster. Moreover, it aims to re ect the importance of balance and compromise in resilience, as well
as promote a greater interest in resilience overall (It doesn’t hurt that they can provide valuable insights into their thought process and
approach to the game while playing). While playtes ng has indicated that players leave the game with these takeaways, don’t take our
word for it: play the game yourself.
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