Disaster Games and Learning Activities

I took up Geography 255 (Environmental Hazards and Disasters) as my last elective under the Environmental Track for MA URP, and it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in UP Diliman. Our class was composed of our hardcore prof, Dr. Jake Rom Cadag, and a mix of wacky PhD and MA students.

In the course of our subject, we tackled so many concepts that revolved around hazards and disasters, among them vulnerability, risk, perception, awareness, and so on. It was up to us as students to read up on related literature and explore how these concepts could be understood in class. We came up with activities and games for these concepts, each one with the goal of creatively extracting insights from each student. These activities can be reused by DRR practitioners and other students and everyone who wants to use them in classes, workshops, and team-building sessions. Here’s the compilation:

1. The Debate on Humans versus the Environment

By Josh Mirabite and Inay Medina
2 groups, 6+ players per group
Moderator required

Objective: To gain appreciation on the naturalness of disasters and the human aspect of disasters.

Mechanics: The 2 groups are assigned to debate over who is to blame for disasters: Nature or Humans. Veering away from the traditional debate style, each group is asked to list down argument points and stick these in manila papers. After all points have been completed, the groups argue on how and why humans versus nature cause disasters.

Source: greenpeace.org


2. The Scapegoat Debate on Supertyphoon Yolanda: Who’s to Blame?

By Prof. Jake Cadag
2-3 persons per group per role, up to 15 pax
Moderator required
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 6.01.04 AM
The blame game. Source: light-core.com

Objective: To gain understanding on the perspectives of the people affected by the onslaught of Supertyphoon Yolanda (intl. Haiyan), as well as the stakeholders involved in the response, recovery, and rehabilitation of the disaster.


  1. National government
  2. Local authorities (city / municipality and barangay)
  3. Scientists
  4. Media
  5. Non-government organisations (private sector, civil society, and development groups)
  6. Locals

Mechanics: Each group is assigned a role and is also assigned to blame another group: National government blames local authorities, local authorities blame scientists, scientists blame the media, media blame the NGOs, NGOs blame the locals, and locals blame the national government.

Three rounds allow the groups to (1) state their positions, (2) blaming, and (3) responding to accusations. A moderator keeps the time and referees the arguments.

Yolanda, 2013. Source: filipinostarnews.net

3. Metro Manila Jigsaw: Scenarios and Perceptions on Vulnerability during Ondoy

By Jean Palma and AE Mallari
10-15 pax, 1 role per individual

Objective: To understand the concept of vulnerability and its implications.

Mechanics: Each participant is given a scroll. The scrolls contain scenarios of a variety of people in different cities and municipalities within Metro Manila, all during the time of the flood disaster of Tropical Storm Ondoy.

Ondoy, 2009. Source: typhoonondoy.org

The participants read the scrolls and are put into the shoes of the people in the scenario. Each one is asked what is most likely going to happen, and why. Here are the scrolls:

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.45.11 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.45.44 PM

The scenarios are short but give a realistic feeling on how different people become socially vulnerable. It also provides appreciation for how and why people in different sectors, classes, and demographic categories are affected by a disaster, in this case, a killer flood. The individual scenarios require creativity per participant.

4. Survival Game: People’s Capacities in Facing Disasters

By JP Soriano and Cho Feliciano
4 groups, 3-4 pax per group
Moderator required

Objective: To help gain appreciation on capacities for survival during the aftermath of a disaster.

Game objective: To outlast all other survivors or to be left standing with the most resources.


  1. Barangay captain and family
  2. High income families
  3. Middle to low income families
  4. Tourists


A strong earthquake isolated a barangay in a fifth class municipality from the rest of the world. There are no communication lines, transportation access, or power. Limited household supplies are available. Everyone struggles for survival while awaiting help from outside.

Source: icons.wxug.org

Mechanics: This is a game of managing resources. Each group is given a card containing what supplies they have left. While these supplies are announced across the board, each group also has a secret card that may contain extra resources or a situation known only to them.

Resource cards include:

  • 12 relief packs
  • 6 rich family food per day
  • 1 poor family food per day
  • 3 live chickens and 1 live goat for the 29 poor families

A relief pack is removed (as consumed) every day.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 6.58.08 AM

Everyday until help arrives, a situation is drawn. Groups are tasked to wisely utilise the resource cards that they have, and strategise on how to acquire what they will eventually need. The situations include:

  • Aftershock: There are  5 dead, 2 severely injured. But there is no hospital.
  • Typhoon Signal No. 3: A typhoon lashes the already devastated municipality.
  • Tetanus. A grandmother was wounded by a rusty nail, and there is no hospital where she can be rushed.
  • Internal conflict: 2 families are arguing to the point that the fathers almost kill each other.
  • Diarrhoea outbreak: Water supply from the communal well is found to cause the disease.
  • Typhoid fever outbreak: 5 members per group are stricken with typhoid symptoms. There are only 7 vaccines available at the barangay hall.

Help arrives on the fourth day, but this is unknown to the players.

Each group is asked to react to the situation and to make their move on utilising or acquiring further resources to survive.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 7.22.25 AM

At the end of the game, the group with the most resources and the least casualties wins.

5. Civil Defense

By Francis Gasgonia and Dominique Amorsolo
6 players

Class objective: To teach children with a 9-12 years age range about disaster response. (We were the guinea pigs.)

Board game objective: To completely respond to as many disaster-stricken communities as possible.

Civil Defense board game.

Mechanics: The board represents a disaster-stricken area. All players assume the role of humanitarian crisis response groups (United Nations, Plan International, Save the Children, etc.) and are tasked to save as many communities as possible.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 7.33.34 AM
Colored hexagons are representative of community centres (yellow), land (green), ports (red), and bridges (white). Headquarters and team bases are represented by ‘H’ and numbers 1-6 in the middle of the board.

At the beginning of the game, each player is equipped with an equal number of disaster response supplies such as food, shelter, WASH, vaccines and medicines, and others. We used color-coded beads for our game since there weren’t any chips yet.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1.00.17 PM

Player insignia chips can move a maximum of 6 steps in the board, except for the red and blue hexagons. Moves are determined by the player’s mission as dictated by the game cards. Card are picked in rotation and are retained until fulfilled. There are three types of cards:

  1. Field Report (black card), which determines the number of supplies you have to leave with the community to save them. Each card presents how grave the situation in the community is, and specifies the required supplies. If you’re able to supply everything, well and good. If not, you wait one rotation round to refill and continue saving the community.
  2. Incident Action Report (red card). This is the ‘dare’ or ‘consequence’ card which is an alternative to the Field Report. A player can choose this to move on with his turn, but with a literal task of doing something, such as acting in a minefield, or really calling a person, etc. Using the Incident Action also makes the player lose a turn.
  3. Contingency Plan (white card). This is your last resort, ‘in desperation’ card, which can only be used once by a player in the entire game. Although, as the card’s name suggests, it is out of contingency that this can be used to save a community, it also has a consequence of a number of lost turns.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 7.33.22 AM

All in all, this game is a very good development because it teaches the youth about the urgency of a disaster, and stimulates strategic thinking. It also simulates emotions that respond to urgency, desperation, and uncertainty that is felt during actual field missions. While I think that 9-12 kids will have fun with the game, DRR terms and concepts such as WASH, the urgency of headquarters instructions, etc, may need to be explained in an orientation to them.


Civil Defense is still being tested for improvements, I’ll post an update when it’s out in the market.

Here’s another blog post on the game by my classmate, Francis: https://boondocksandcities.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/civil-defense-the-strategic-humanitarian-crisis-board-game/

6. Crosswords and Word Jumbles in a Framework

By Lee Patarlas and Adrian Romero
2 groups, 6+ members per group

Objective: To gain understanding on disaster concepts and terms, types of disaster planning approaches, and the disaster management framework.

Mechanics: 1 group is assigned to the word jumble, while the other gets the crossword. Each group is tasked to solve the words, and upon completion, matched with definitions.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 5.15.30 AM
Our group picked the word jumble game, and after the mad race to get all these in place, we had to match them with academic definitions before placing them in the matrix.

When all the words and definitions are matched, these are classified into the matrix that incorporates the disaster management cycle and the planning approaches. Here it is:

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 2.13.11 PM

Matrix Game
Our group, competitively sticking our accomplishments on the chart.

Once both groups have filled in the chart, a discussion of the concepts takes place, and observations about disaster planning and risk reduction practices (in our case, the Philippine setting), are pointed out. In our discussion, we observed a weakness in coordination and systems, as well as the need for government and groups to extend efforts all the way towards the recovery phase, since most initiatives are pooled into the prevention and control phase.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 5.13.56 AM
Answers to the crossword and word jumble are classified into a matrix of approaches (top, integrated, or bottom) against the phases of the disaster cycle (preparedness and mitigation, response, and rehabilitation and reconstruction.


7. Evacuation Mapping in the UP Campus

By Raphael Reyes and Marge Royandoyan
4 groups, 2-3 pax per group

Objective: To improve disaster mapping skills.

Mechanics: This is a hands-on mapping exercise that makes participants go through the activity of strategically assigning evacuation centres in a flooded area.

Our case was the area of UP Diliman during a flood. 4 groups assume the role of informal settlers, the barangay captain, student dormers, and the UP Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and are tasked to pinpoint the areas to be assigned as evacuation areas.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 5.15.07 AM
Stick-ons containing the evacuation centres are placed on strategic locations. The map is an overlay of a Google satellite and flood hazards.

Considerations of all groups include the accessibility of their locations for evacuees and external aid, as well as the potential for further flooding.


So there it is. Feel free to use the games and add twists if you want to. It’s always fun to think of methods for disaster learning because of all the creative things that crop up. But always keep in mind the situations on the ground and the gravity of a disaster when it happens.

If you’ve got questions about the games or would like to add activities to this list, leave a comment below.


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