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The value of a good gaming group

I wrote this a few years ago after a particularly . . . interesting weekend. My firends from the group still meet, although not as often as we once did.

The Value of a Good Gaming Group

One thing that most of us in this hobby have had to deal with is the prejudiced opinion of outsiders that Gamers are reality challenged geeks that cannot function in the real world and that Gaming itself has no practical value. The relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina give a tremendous example of how these statements are false.

My region has a facility designed to coordinate communications between the Incident Command System and health care providers such as hospitals, nursing homes, health departments and clinics. The facility is not routinely staffed but counts on a duty roster of volunteers from a variety of other organizations to make it operational. When I took the management position there in July of this year one of my biggest worries was how to staff the facility if those volunteers, all of whom have emergency management responsibilities at their full time jobs, are tasked elsewhere.

This was exactly the situation I found myself in on Saturday when the call came to activate the center on Sunday Sept 4th. To complicate matters it was also a holiday weekend and many other people were out of town.

Lacking any other resource I called upon my friends, men and women that make up a long standing gaming group. As with many gaming groups the people involved are a diverse lot, with educations ranging from high school to advanced degrees. None of them work in emergency response or have any background in professional emergency preparedness. Several are software engineers, another works for a publishing company, and my wife is a corporate travel agent. All of them came down and hit the ground running that Sunday morning.

Before I could even think of things, such as spreadsheets and databases, they began to appear on the center’s computer system. Within hours we had established a huge spreadsheet of medical professionals willing to staff our regional reception center. Transportation companies had been contacted for the use of vans, busses and even cabs to move evacuees to appropriate medical clinics or temporary housing. Messages flashed out over HEAR radio and the web bases EMSystem to hospitals in ten counties in two States. Hundreds of phone calls were facilitated. Resources were located and methods to ensure they got where they were needed were found.In the critical first hours only two other professionals and myself, were available to work in the center. If we had been without my gaming friends’ assistance I doubt the center would have reacted as quickly. Not a single phone call was dropped. No data was lost and no request for information or assistance went unanswered. All through Sunday and Monday these in people stood in and made the center fully operational for an extended period for the very first time. Incoming information was collected and rapidly evolving information streams were directed to a variety of facilities.

By stand down on Monday evening we had written and road validated directions to the reception center, built spreadsheets for transportation, durable medical equipment (such as wheel chairs and walkers) and other resources and the medical workers list had grown to several hundred persons. Over the rest of this week staffing has been done by a talented group of other people as well, since all my gaming friends are gainfully employed and cannot leave their day jobs for extended periods. Some have been able to come in for a morning or an afternoon shift. One came in and did sterling work setting up two new fax machines and other electronic equipment, a job he did with polished efficiency.

“Well begun, half done” is an old saying, but no less true for its age. The communications center was truly well begun and that laid a foundation for future success. We never got behind the events. Our decision loop was always positive, We could even look ahead and begin long range planning. If these concepts seem familiar to many it is because they are often used in gaming, and in all honesty many of the skills we used those first two days were ones learned in years of simulations and role playing. We acted as a team because for years we had role played as one. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and were able to seamlessly establish tasking to make best use of them. I’ve been in emergency response and planning for over fifteen years and worked in many Tactical Operation Centers, Incident Command Posts and Emergency Operations Centers. I would be hard pressed to find one that was as free of friction as ours was. Was this entirely due to our being gamers? Certainly it wasn’t. I have absolutely no doubt that being gamers gave them the skills to do the jobs we were tasked with and made us a team that got the job done.

Hundreds of people will benefit from the work my gaming group did and they will never know it was a bunch of “gaming geeks” that made it happen

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