US Army Corps of Engineers
Sacramento District

image - construction at Folsom Dam

Multi-Hazard Tournament game play provides real world solutions

Published Oct. 4, 2018
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District's Hunter Merritt wears a referee's jersey while judging representatives from California Department of Water Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and other USACE offices participating in a "Serious Gaming" event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament on Sept. 26, 2018, in Sacramento.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District's Hunter Merritt wears a referee's jersey while judging representatives from California Department of Water Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and other USACE offices participating in a "Serious Gaming" event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament on Sept. 26, 2018, in Sacramento.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District employees join representatives from California Department of Water Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and other USACE offices in a "Serious Gaming" event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament on Sept. 26, 2018, in Sacramento.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District employees join representatives from California Department of Water Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and other USACE offices in a "Serious Gaming" event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament on Sept. 26, 2018, in Sacramento.

Andrea Carson from the USACE Institute for Water Resources Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise, explains how to play a gaming event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament on Sept. 26, 2018, in Sacramento

Andrea Carson from the USACE Institute for Water Resources Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise, explains how to play a gaming event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament on Sept. 26, 2018, in Sacramento.

By J. Paul Bruton and Hunter Merritt

Is it okay for employees to spend an entire workday playing games?

Well, if they got together to play Scrabble or have a Candy-Crush tournament, the answer, of course would be a resounding “No!” But what if the event that brought these organizations together under the umbrella of gameplay, produced tangible, beneficial results in shaping policy, decisions on water-related construction projects, or resolving conflicts regarding investment in infrastructure?

On September 26, Hunter Merritt, a water resources planner, and public involvement specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, and Andrea Carson from the USACE Institute for Water Resources Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise, demonstrated a gaming event called a Multi-Hazard Tournament. More than a dozen colleagues from the Sacramento District as well as representatives from California Department of Water Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and other Corps of Engineers offices were on-hand for the presentation.

The Multi-Hazard Tournament, is a Corps-developed product used in several shared vision planning efforts internationally, and illustrates an innovative approach to risk-informed decision making in planning.

In reality, decisions that affect thousands of residents across a city or county often require multiple agencies working together to choose the best solutions. Using the San Antonio River Watershed as the example data-set and circumstances, the tournament promotes a competitive environment among teams of participants as they try to determine the best policies and investments to implement throughout the area.

In the demonstration, teams competed for the best approaches to a pre-determined set of problems or hazards in the watershed, such as drought, flooding, and water quality, deciding on the best policies and measures to deal with the various problems within a limited budget. The activity spurred discussion among players to connect the hypothetical scenario to some of the real problems in the Sacramento area. 

Serious Gaming might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but it refers to a genre of games that are designed and played for a specific purpose, rather than solely for entertainment. They are often used in industries like education, science, healthcare, emergency management, city planning, and others.

In the final analysis, these interactive simulations are truly more than a game, with players discovering that many of the ideas and solutions they develop while playing through the scenarios are actually viable solutions with potential for real world application.

Merritt, who invited Carson to visit Sacramento and help facilitate the demonstration, believes gaming is a valuable but underused tool for teaching people about complex issues. He has been pursuing use of this potential engagement tool for gamers of all ages. In 2016, Merritt served on an interagency team that developed a popular flood risk education and outreach tool for the State of Nevada – a simulation game, called “Flood Fighter: Nevada.” The game is even starting to be used by agencies outside of Nevada, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency, as an innovative approach to spur discussions on flood risk management.

“We use every tool we can to get the message out about flood risk reduction and water management,” said Merritt. “But systems are complex, and explaining them is difficult. Serious Gaming is just one more tool in our tool box that we can use to communicate the message and explain the system.”

In fact, using games for educational purposes has taken such root that Merritt is currently working with Carson and other Corps colleagues to develop a board game aimed at helping professionals develop collaborative modeling skills. The board game is scheduled for testing and release in 2019. And in October, Merritt will be providing a workshop for science teachers from around the nation at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Reno, sharing insights on Serious Game development and use.

The name of the workshop he’s leading? Modeling, Gaming, and Critical Thinking: The Power of Play.

National Science Teachers Association Area Conference on Science Education: http://s6.goeshow.com/nsta/area/2018reno/