Faced with natural risks, what prevention tools for young people?


Every year around the world, major natural and technological phenomena (floods, forest fires, cyclones, technological accidents, etc.) cause disasters that cause considerable damage to human life and property. There is broad consensus on the importance of raising public awareness and preparing through effective risk communication.

This is a global issue, supported by the United Nations in particular through the Sendai Framework (2015-2030) for disaster risk reduction. The aim is to reach as many people as possible and to inform and help individuals make an informed decision (by explaining how to understand the alerts, find a refuge area or prepare a kit rescue…)

However, it is recognized that a single tool is not sufficient to reach all audiences; it is then a question of building a broader risk prevention communication strategy integrating several awareness-raising measures adapted to the target audience. In France, “preventive information” is one of the pillars of risk prevention: it allows each citizen to be informed of the risks to which they are exposed (through the DICRIM (The document of municipal information on major risks) or the IAL (Information for buyers and tenants) for example).

Since October 1990, the law has required local authorities to put in place various communication measures (municipal documents, posters, meetings, flood markers, etc.) to enable citizens to be aware of the major risks to which they may be exposed. exposed. Preventive information thus contains the means of action (good reflexes, identification of warning signs, etc.) that each citizen can put in place before or during an event, thus becoming an actor in their own right. The authorities have an obligation of means but not of efficiency.

Games to make young people aware of the risks

The format for communicating preventive information and the method of dissemination are not imposed. There are a variety of tools available to the general public  : paper documentation, websites, plays, exhibitions, games. The latter have made a breakthrough since 2020: 80% of the 93 games on major risks available in France have been developed over the last three years (source: AFPCNT, 2023 ).

Risk management stakeholders are in high demand for innovative tools, particularly for young people. Indeed, the communication measures currently developed are very oriented towards an adult audience, including games which nevertheless seem to be a natural means of educating young populations.

If natural and technological risks are integrated into school programs throughout the curriculum, there is a lack of tools for putting them into practice: extracting knowledge, ensuring reflexes and good behavior, understanding situations in different contexts, letting freedom be discussion. The link between prevention and thematic teaching may be an opportunity.

All prepared to face the cyclone risk

It has been shown that serious games improve learning: we learn more in situations where they are used than in those where they are not. In a fun setting, you can replay, make mistakes or lose without any consequences, try different options, improve. Children discover the risks in their territory, the behaviors to adopt, the different actors, the decision-makers, the responsibilities of adults, etc.

The game offers the opportunity to test procedures (quality of messages, type of information), to have people of different functions/levels play/dialogue: for example children/parents who play their role or the role of someone else.

Initiatives have been emerging for several years aimed at this public: Stop Disaster has existed in several languages ​​since 2018. In France, an escape game dedicated to good behavior in the event of natural risks was developed by DREAL Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 2020. Ouragame has was designed by two laboratories at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne to understand the reconstruction of a territory after a cyclone. In 2021, the Red Cross produced several games on the theme of cyclone and flood prevention (Paré Pas Paré Cyclone, Paré Buzz, Sauv’ out kaz!), etc.

A range of objectives and approaches

The objectives of these games are varied: use vocabulary adapted to the age of the audience, teach them to recognize alarms, transmit the safety instructions (evacuation, first aid actions, etc.) that children may be confronted with and also improve the crisis management in general.

Some games insist on instructions that are difficult for families to accept, such as not picking up children who are at school in the event of an event. The approaches are diverse: it may involve reproducing a game pattern known to children and transferring it (goose game, seven families), adapting existing mechanics, combining them, or even developing new ones. The format also differs: board game, video game, escape game, etc.

The involvement of future players in the development of games is crucial: it involves at least carrying out test phases, encouraging exchanges, allowing the adaptation of the rules of the game, co-producing game elements .

During game sessions, certain elements must be learned by heart (emergency number), others must above all be understood (analysis of the situation, evacuation route, not putting yourself in danger), others allow a better understanding of society (who are the actors? What are their responsibilities?…), still others address organization within the family (putting together an emergency kit, not picking up the children from school). The level of autonomy varies: from playing without support to the necessary presence of a game master.

However, this tool also has limitations. Firstly, if the game takes place in the school setting, it is a question of distinguishing learning of the game and evaluation of school skills (spelling, reading, logic, calculation, etc.). The knowledge provided by the game complements other essential skills: knowing how to swim , knowing your territory, knowing how to describe a situation. Secondly, in the theme of risks, complicated or tragic situations are addressed: catastrophic events that can lead to injuries, deaths, losses as well as a possible reminder of situations already experienced, anxiety-provoking. Finally, setting up a game can be costly and restrictive: paid games with facilitator, decor, small groups for example.

Research prospects

From a research point of view, little work has focused on evaluating the quality of preventive information, and even less on evaluating the real interest of the games’ contribution. This theme is broken down in particular according to the following questions: Does the “gamification” of situations in the face of risks promote learning and allow a reduction in vulnerability? How to prioritize the prevention messages to remember at the heart of a fun scenario?

Aren’t the positive, inconsequential aspects of a game counterproductive to conveying the seriousness of a real situation? How can children transfer “already played out” situations to reality and, conversely, how can “replay” situations experienced in areas already affected by an event?

The development of games must be accompanied by tools adapted to their evaluation. For example, we can think of debriefings after a session, role-playing exercises, or transforming a board game into an outdoor game.

Finally, to place ourselves in a framework of global change, the expected effects (increase in the frequency, intensity of events, increase in the exposure of populations) can only reinforce the interest in developing games for awareness from the youngest to major risks: these open up research perspectives both in terms of game development and analysis of their performance.

Author Bios: Delphine Grancher is a Researcher at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and Corinne Curt is a Researcher at INRAE