Building the bridge between long term risk reduction and emergency response

By  Harvey Hill, Ph.D.[1]

The Canadian Risk and Hazards Network (CRHNet) plays a unique role in Canadian disaster risk reduction. Because of its openness to those with varying expertise and hazard interests, it provides a forum to exchange ideas regarding disaster risk reduction that is quite remarkable. This openness has its own challenges. A key challenge is how to reconcile the objectives of the responders of the CRHNet community with those focused on pro-active and pre-disaster risk reduction.

These two sets of members have contrasting primary missions. Responders focus on dealing with the event once it has occurred. Critical objectives include: human safety, protection of property and return of the community and economy to a functioning state. Conversely, the pre-disaster risk reduction members focus on understanding how to proactively reduce vulnerability to hazardous events.

Visualization and valuation of risks and risk reduction actions may serve as tools to support an integration of the two conceptual differences.  Simulation tools and accompanying methodologies and integrated land management applications are examples of such tools.

Simulation gaming for hazard management decision making and decision-making requiring integration of many skill sets and disciplines is a rapidly evolving field (Ahmed, Bencala, and Schultz, 2012; Hill et. al. 2013: McNeil, 2013; Trybus, 2014).

How can these tools support improved disaster response and proactive risk reduction?

Some of the advantages of traditional games and more recently video games are

  1. They provide a “vehicle” for different members of the CHRNet community to contribute to a simulation of the consequences of a hazardous event with, and without, alternative risk reduction investments, policies, and technologies,
  2. They allow for the integration of economics, physical sciences, geographic information systems and traditional emergency response processes.

The VFIRE gaming tool developed by at the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, Reno (Pennick, 2007; Hoang et. al., 2010) is an example of a fire-fighting simulation educational tool that can improve awareness of the need for adoption of risk reduction strategies. The tool trains fire fighters in tactical and strategic issues related to forest fire fighting and has the potential to support proactive disaster risk reduction. Use of VFIRE can also help identify proactive ways to reduce forest-fire risk while enhancing forest-fire fighting capacity.


Figure 1: Example of a fire simulation tool.

An advantage of hazard gaming is that it builds on simulation skills already developed within the CRHNet community and allows expansion to better integrate innovation and training. Simulations have been demonstrated to have a greater impact on learning and engagement than classroom and laboratory studies (see Table 1).

Picture1Table 1: Comparison of Traditional Training, Hands-on, and Game-based Learning (Trybus, 2014).

Disaster loss estimation tools are another approach. These tools provide a disaster scenario to measure the risks imposed by land-use decisions and support integrated land management tools (ILM).

Tools such as HAZUS-MH have been applied to urban settings (Hastings and Journeay, 2011) can be used to evaluate how to mitigate hazard risks and can be used by disaster responders.

The Central American Probabilistic Risk Assessment loss-estimation methodology (CAPRA) has been used by the World Bank for areas which do not have much data on assets that could be impacted by hazard events; using remote sensing to gather that data (World Bank, 2013). Here the opportunity is to potentially build on such tools and others in development for low data rural environments to better understand vulnerabilities on the landscape from floods and other hazards.  Such tools require hazard scenarios to estimate disaster losses and have those scenarios for use in other applications. For instance, these tools would use flood maps and flood scenarios prior to flooding events occurring.

Picture1Figure 2: Generic steps to identify vulnerability and resiliency to natural disasters, (Hill, Weiner, and Warner, 2012).

A pre-run library of such information can serve as reference material during an emergency response.  The same information when combined with socio-economic data can support cost benefit analysis; a systematic way to compare actions to understand their feasibility vis à vis alternatives (Figure 2).

CRHNet plays a significant role in Canadian natural hazard risk reduction. Tremendous potential exists to capture the synergies of CRHNet’s diverse membership through the use of emerging technologies and methodologies. Capturing these synergies will not only benefit Canadian communities but will contribute to the national economy and national security.


Ahmed, S.N., K.R. Bencala and C.L. Schultz(2012) Drought Exercise Report – Summary and Lessons Learned. ICPRB13-09, September, 013, .

Dohaney, J., Kennedy, B., Brogt, E., and Bradshaw, H. (2012) The Geothermal World Videogame: An Authentic, Immersive Videogame Used To Teach Observation Skills Needed For Exploration. New Zealand Geothermal Workshop Proceedings, 19-21 November 2012, Auckland New Zealand.

Hastings, N. And M. Journeay. (2011). Adapting Hazus for Use in Canada: A Risk Assessment Methodology for Natural Hazards.

Hill, H. and Kindrachuk, J. (2013) Land and Infrastructure Resiliency Assessment. Canadian Risk and Hazards Network Annual Symposium, Regina, Saskatchewan, talk slide deck.

Hill, H., Wiener, J., & Warner, K. (2012). From fatalism to resilience: reducing disaster impacts through systematic investments. Disasters, 36(2), 175-194.

Hoang RV, Sgambati MR, Brown TJ, Coming DS, Harris FC. (2010).VFire: Immersive Wildfire Simulation and VisualizationComputers and Graphics: Special Issue on Serious Games. 34

McNeil, T.(2013). Simulating Disaster, August.

Penick MA. (2007). VFIRE: Virtual Fire in Realistic Environments A Framework for Wildfire Visualization in Immersive Environments. Computer Science and Engineering. MS CS:64.

Trybus, T. 2014. Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going? New Media Institute,–what-it-is-why-it-works-and-where-its-going.html

World Bank, 2013.,,contentMDK:23068623~pagePK:34004173~piPK:34003707~theSitePK:841043,00.html .

[1] The views expressed are strictly those of the author. They do not represent the official position of any non-Government or Government agency.  The purpose of the article is to foster discussion as to how to increase the ability to reduce disaster risk in Canada.