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RIT-developed disaster response game featured in ArcUser Magazine

By Fran Broderick


A recent article in the publication ArcUser Magazine highlights the work of a cross-disciplinary team of professors and student researchers responsible for a new game that helps teach spatial thinking via geographic information systems (GIS) software.

The team, led by information sciences and technologies assistant professor Brian Tomaszewski, created the game in partnership with the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in Bonn, Germany. In the game, players are faced with emergency response scenarios and are then prompted to utilize GIS to make decisions in an effort to ameliorate the crises. The game is played within the ArcGIS mapping and spatial analysis platform.

Tomaszewski explains, “the game was inspired by the need to develop spatial thinking skills in disaster management education and improving how to learn about the application of GIS for disaster management.” He hopes the game can not only help introduce students to GIS software and improve spatial thinking skills, but also act as a training mechanism for emergency first responders.

In the current iteration a player responds to a toxic waste spill on the Rhine River in Bonn, receiving an ArcMap representation of the affected area and determining surrounding areas to “buffer”. Not unlike the famed computer game, The Oregon Trail, the game evaluates players’ decisions and advises them of errors and how they can improve.  The experience is an example of a “serious game,” where the purpose is education rather than entertainment.

Tomaszewski recently received an International Partnership Development grant from RIT to help build the relationship with UNU-EHS.  He will be traveling via this grant to Bonn next month to discuss development of the game and work on a game-related National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal.

RIT recently received designation as an ESRI development center (EDC) in recognition of the quality of its GIS development education programs. The team’s work on the game was funded in part by the NSF’s Science Master's Program "Decision Support Technologies for Environmental Forecasting and Emergency Response" (NSF DGE-1011458).

RIT’s information technologies and sciences department has recently contributed in other areas of emergency response management as well, including professor Steve Zilora’s Emergency Services Directory which contains easily-accessible, vital information for first responders.

The research team intends to continue developing their game for future use in emergency response training.  To learn more head over to ArcUser Magazine’s website.