State using sci-fi game to prep kids for quake

April 20, 2011 4:29:49 AM PDT
Tuesday, across Indiana, emergency officials staged an earthquake preparedness drill. Next week, Illinois joins other Midwestern states in what's being called the "Great Central U.S. Shakeout" to prepare for a massive earthquake along the New Madrid fault line that runs into southern Illinois.

In this Intelligence Report: One unusual way that Illinois has spent federal money to get ready.

Even as horrifying scenes from the recent Japan earthquake disaster and deadly tsunami are fresh in the minds of most people, Illinois emergency management officials are using science fiction scare tactics to educate children about how to prepare for an earthquake.

Calling it "Disaster Ville," state officials used federal Homeland Security grant money to develop a children's video game.

With a crescendo of cheesy thriller music, the day the earth shook begins. "Welcome to Disaster Ville," says the sign, and a young boys plays ball-- unaware of the danger that lurks beneath his feet. This is the video game featured on the State of Illinois Emergency Management website, touting next Thursday's earthquake preparedness drill.

A 7 or 8-level shaker along the New Madrid fault line could affect more than 15 million people, topple thousands of bridges and buildings, and, emergency officials say, result in catastrophic loss of life.

More than 400 Indiana schools and 600,000 residents got a head start Tuesday with their own earthquake exercise.

"I'm not taking it lightly. This is a serious drill to practice," said Perry Township, Ind., teacher Kelly Chamberlain.

While Illinois emergency officials plan similar drills next week, for now this is how they want children to prepare: With that little boy in the video game being visited by a flying saucer and an alien called Zorg telling him he is in "great danger." The one-eyed alien then leads him on a treasure hunt through a virtual home, gathering up equipment that you might need in the event of the big one.

State officials say this earthquake preparedness project is intended to demonstrate "a new educational approach for children to learn effective disaster skills and responses. It was commissioned by the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency."

That game cost the state $286,000 to create and put online. It was funded with federal tax money paid to the University of Illinois in Chicago where their electronic visualization lab worked on it along with scientists from U of I in Champaign at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Illinois Emergency Management Agency earthquake website:

IEMA earthquake video game:

Illinois Terrorism Task Force website:

Great Central US Shakeout website: