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Kids rule! At least when it comes to getting ready for a disaster. In May, the “town” (represented by the Castaways, below) prevailed over the “storm” (represented by the U.S. Navy's Construction Battalion). Photo: Knight Foundation
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Zombies may be fictional, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes they can be used to teach a valuable lesson about the need to expect the unexpected. Photo: CDC

A hurricane is no time for fun and games. And with meteorologists predicting above-average activity this year, it's more important than ever to be able to lead constituents in preparing for an onslaught.

Battlestorm (battlestormgame.org) is an event simulation that aims to help you do just that.

Commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and developed with Area/Code Entertainment LLC in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, this community-building exercise teaches residents what to have on hand (i.e., 1 to 3 gallons of bottled water/person/day) when and if the power goes out. Combining elements of basketball, freeze tag, capture the flag, and handball, the game pits two teams against another on a basketball court roughly 85 by 50 feet.

The competition is part of a larger Knight Foundation effort to test a theory: Games can be used to teach community members how to unite to solve a common challenge.

That theory was tested on May 21, when Mississippi Gulf Coast residents gathered at the Biloxi High School Competition Gymnasium. Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, who'd been practicing their Battlestorm skills in the preceding months, faced off against the U.S. Navy's Construction Battalion.

The children on the “Castaways” team represented the people of the affected town, who would be battling the threat of the Navy's “Hurricane.” As the offense team, the Castaways struggled to transport resources, which are represented by 6-inch soft foam balls, from one side of the court to the other while the Hurricane defense team attempted to thwart their efforts.

During play, in a process called Community Power Up Process, teams earn “power tokens” whenever residents upload a photo of their hurricane prep kit to the Web site. In May, thanks to a strong unified effort and help from fellow residents, the Boys & Girls Club members emerged victorious.

“I think that if Battlestorm were to spread more, then people would be more prepared,” says Maurice Williams, a 13-year-old Castaways team member. “It's not just a game to have fun, it teaches you things that are very important to help you be prepared in case a hurricane does come to your area.”

Williams adds that public officials and citizens alike could learn a few things from Battlestorm: to stock up on water, food, and other supplies before a storm; and to help each other find and reach shelter when the storm hits.

— Jenni Spinner (jspinwrites@gmail.com) is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a former editor of PUBLIC WORKS.

WEB EXTRA

To learn how to play Battlestorm and watch videos of players as they train and talk smack, click here.

USING YOUR BRAINS IN DISASTER PREPARATION

The CDC spreads survival awareness by turning to the undead.

In a smart move that harnesses a pop culture phenomenon, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlighted the importance of preparing for a real disaster by using the example of a zombie apocalypse. CDC blogger Ali Khan's May 16 post — “Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” — was so popular it crashed the agency's servers.