The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has turned earthquake preparedness into a video game.
IEMA and local officials hope the result will be better awareness by children during emergencies.
Students in Courtney Chady's fifth-grade class at Benton Grade School 5-8 had the opportunity to take part in the premiere of a game Monday afternoon.
"This video game is an exciting new way to reach young people with the preparedness message," said Mike Chamness, IEMA senior policy adviser and chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force.
"While the game uses an earthquake scenario and should increase awareness of the earthquake risk in Illinois, it also drives home the importance of having a preparedness kit at your home and being prepared for all types of disasters," Chamness said.
The game, called "The Day the Earth Shook," was developed by the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Center for Public Safety and Justice, which is within the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.
The project, which had a total cost of $286,000, was funded through federal homeland security grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Chamness said Benton's location within the New Madrid Seismic Zone made BGS a prime spot for the release of the game.
"As we face the earthquake threat in Illinois, it is important for our children to learn what to do during an earthquake," said Ryan Buckingham, director of the Franklin County Emergency Management Agency. "IEMA's new earthquake game will teach children what to do before, during and after an earthquake occurs."
Southern Illinois lies within two seismic zones, the IEMA noted: the New Madrid, which stretches from Mississippi to Illinois along the Central Mississippi River Valley, and the Wabash Valley, located between southeastern Illinois and southwestern Indiana.
During the winter of 1811-12, a series of strong earthquakes, estimated to be in the 7.8 to 8.1 magnitude range, occurred along the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
Several smaller earthquakes have been felt throughout Illinois over the years, including a 5.4 magnitude quake in April 2008 centered in southeastern Illinois. That tremor caused minor damage but was felt by people as far away as northern Illinois.
"Benton Grade School 5-8 is excited to be selected by the state to launch this earthquake awareness game," BGS 5-8 Principal Tammy McCollum said. "This educational game provides a very useful way to help students gain knowledge, develop life skills and reinforce positive safe habits in all ages.
"This is a very innovative way to get out the preparedness awareness message to young students," McCollum said.
In the video game, players are taken on a virtual reality tour of a home and instructed to add items to their earthquake-preparedness kit.
Page 2 of 2 - Some of the items — canned goods, bottled water and a flashlight — are familiar necessities while others are not so obvious: a wrench for shutting off broken water pipes, for example, and extra batteries for a flashlight or radio.
Once their kit is filled, players then navigate through the home to find some of the dangerous areas and safe places to go in the event of an actual earthquake. Next, they are given the opportunity to make their way out of the home during a quake.
Benton students responded enthusiastically to the game. One student even asked Chamness if the game would feature more levels of competition.
"Any time you put something in game form, it makes it more enjoyable for them to learn. This seems to have held their attention very well," Chady said. "Also, there's a leaderboard — and the students are very competitive."
She said the game already appears to have had an effect on students.
"I've had some students tell me they're going to make an emergency kit when they go home tonight," Chady said.
The game can be downloaded from the Ready Illinois website at www.Ready.Illinois.gov.