Can games help experts manage disasters?
Over the past few weeks, Japan has been grappling with the aftermath of a tragic 9.0 earthquake and tsunami which killed thousands of people.
As if that wasn’t enough, damage to Fukushima’s nuclear reactors caused Japan to descend into the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl.
The management of the nuclear incident continues to generate intense debate - not least of which is concern over the safety of workers gallantly trying to keep the incident from spiraling out of control.
The Japanese and the rest of the world were understandably dismayed following reports of workers getting exposed to toxic radiation levels, with some even suffering severe burns.
The question in the minds of disaster managers and nuclear scientists is whether there is a better way to manage this kind of incident with minimal risk to emergency personnel.
The IAEA chief’s recent statement that current emergency response and disaster management techniques are still stuck in the 1980s and do not take the realities of the 21st Century was quite sobering.
However, as JPR analyst Ted Pollak notes, gaming technology could offer one of the most viable ways to manage future disasters.
According to Pollak, today’s games boast highly sophisticated virtual scenarios that closely resemble real life environments. As such, there are a number of small gaming companies which have already begun to create simulations for disaster preparedness and response.
Of course, the cost and expertise required for the development of more complex simulated environments will require the participation of larger gaming companies if it is to be either viable or marketable.
As far as managing nuclear incidents goes, high tech disaster simulation will certainly not be starting from scratch.
Virtually every (modern) nuclear power plant in the world has a detailed 3D model done in CAD. All that the disaster simulation project would need to do is find a way of importing the nuclear plant’s 3D model into a "gaming" environment.
That way, workers and volunteers handling a nuclear incident can execute a detailed trial run in a virtual environment before venturing into a real-life damaged plant.
The simulated environment should also be capable of importing new data gathered by cameras and sensors from an ongoing incident. Real-time data information could include the ongoing effects of explosions, collapsed walls and radiation leaks.
There is no doubt that such a project may be prohibitively expensive - with costs running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Still, it is not impossible to do, given a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which does an excellent job rendering a virtual model of the damaged Chernobyl plant.