Connections 2012 GameLab: Haiti earthquake scenario


At the Connections 2012 interdisciplinary wargaming conference, participants will be assigned to one of three different game design teams. During part of the conference, each group will be asked to develop a preliminary concept (or concepts) for a game about the assigned scenario. Approximately three hours will be devoted to this activity, although participants are free to further develop their ideas in advance, during conference breaks, and in the evenings. We are not expecting any of the teams to produce anything approaching a game prototype, but rather to develop ideas on how the task might be approached (and why), what dynamics ought to be modelled (and how), what game mechanisms would be most useful, and so forth. One or more subject matter experts will be assigned to each Game Lab team to provide information and feedback.

The ideas generated by the three teams will then be compiled by a Working Group into a brief-back for the entire conference, comparing and contrasting the various approaches taken, and using this as a way of exploring broader issues in professional game design.

Game Design Scenario

Each team will be asked to design a game of military and civilian relief operations during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The game should be intended for use in professional military education classes dealing with disaster assistance and humanitarian relief operations; for similar use by UN agencies and non-governmental organizations; and in university courses. The game may, or may not, have a commercial “hobby” application.

The game should cover approximately the first month or two of relief operations, starting from when the earthquake struck on 12 January 2010. It should address the role of US forces (over 16,000 US military personnel were involved in Operation Unified Response, together with 2,000 Canadian personnel in Operation Hestia), UN military and civilian personnel (including approximately 9,000 members of the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission), international NGOs (of which several hundred were active in Haiti), various rescue contingents, and the Haitian government, people, and civil society.

In designing the game, each team should:

  • Keep in mind at all times the intended audiences and purposes of the game.
  • Develop a game system that generates understanding among the players of the capabilities, constraints, and perspectives of each major set of actors.
  • Highlight key operational priorities and pressing humanitarian needs, population movements, logistical challenges, and related security issues.
  • Illustrate the effects of the earthquake on already weak Haitian government capacities (loss of key personnel, destruction of infrastructure, disruption), as well as the immediate effect on UN operations (MINUSTAH lost almost one hundred personnel in the earthquake itself, including the UN Special Representative and his principal deputy).
  • Encourage the development of assessment, coordination, and planning skills that would be useful in other, future joint humanitarian operations.
  • Assure that the player(s) do not lose sight of the fact most disaster relief is typically undertaken by disaster-affected populations themselves (although not necessarily by the host government).

Background Resources

The following resources should be of help to team members in designing the game. While we don’t expect participants to have looked through all (or most) of it, it would be useful to have a look at the three items labelled “key material” before the main game lab design session.

While limited electronic and paper copies of this material will be available at Connections, conference participants are urged to bring some briefing material with them. Please note that public wifi will probably not be available at NDU.

Key Material

Inside the Haiti Earthquake. This multimedia simulation of the Haiti is well worth playing for the insight it presents into the challenges facing reporters, NGOs, and survivors on the scene. While intended for a very different audience and purpose than the task set at Connections, it nonetheless demonstrates how a game-based approach can be both engaging and educational.

Mission Update Brief: Operation Unified Response, 24 January 2010. A US Southern Command/Joint Task Force Haiti situation report issued some 12 days after the earthquake struck, detailing priorities, assets, deployments, and mission status. The mission brief for 31 January 2010 can be found here.

United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, S/2010/200 (22 February 2010). Offers an overview of the activities of MINUSTAH in the period immediately following the earthquake, including force composition and deployment.

Operation Unified Response: Reconstruction and Analysis of the US Navy Response (August 2010). While this is a very lengthy document (209pp), it is well worth skimming for the detailed analysis and data it contains. [ADDED]

Other Useful Reading Material

Command Brief: Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center, early February 2010. Details the US, UN, and other coordination structures put in place, and the interface between them, and provides a status update on key sectors.

Canadian Department of National Defence, Operation HESTIA and Joint Task Force Haiti. Summary of humanitarian assistance provided by the Canadian Armed Forces.

International Council of Voluntary Agencies, STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: A Review of NGO Coordination in the Field (Case Study: Haiti 2010), February 2011.

Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, Health response to the earthquake in Haiti—January 2010 (2012). Summary of a major review of the emergency health response to the Haiti earthquake, highlighting both the humanitarian challenge and coordination issues.


UN OCHA’s ReliefWeb offers an extensive library of hundreds of maps of Haiti detailing damage to road networks, damage to buildings, internal displacement, logistics, and relief activities.

GameLab Presentation (update)

There were a number of requests for copies of the presentation on Haiti by David Becker at the Wargame Design 101 session, so I’ve uploaded the slides here.

About Rex Brynen

Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University.
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15 Responses to Connections 2012 GameLab: Haiti earthquake scenario

  1. Rex Brynen says:

    And on a less serious note, Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill can be found discussing Connections here:

  2. Rex Brynen says:

    One of the dangers in designing a game on a topic like this is reinforcing the “white knight” syndrome that portrays humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations largely through the lens of external actors. In practice, however, 95% of disaster response is by local communities—not necessary local government (although it is important too), but local populations acting to find food, shelter, and medical care. How can a game both address the “strategic” and operational and HADR challenges without losing sight of the essential efforts of individuals, families, and communities on the ground?

  3. Rex Brynen says:

    Phil: If you have any particular analysis or data that you would like ti flag, by all means pass it on. Also, if you have views on what (from a navy/CVN/flight ops) perspective ought to be in the wargame, post your ideas to this thread where other folks can benefit from them.

  4. Rex Brynen says:

    Coordination is immensely important in HADR missions—and immensely challenging too. This is especially true, as in Haiti, where local government capacity is weak, and has been further damaged by the disaster itself. The UN emergency “cluster system” for aid coordination in Haiti is generally viewed as having worked quite poorly in the first weeks. However, the UN itself had been heavily hit by the earthquake too, losing significant numbers of personnel (including senior leaders) as well as key facilities.

    Compounding this was the inrush of new actors from the outside—some of them well experienced, but others arriving unprepared and at times representing more of a burden than a help. The military forces of JTF-Haiti had their own command structure, but this needed to somehow work in concert with all of the other actors too.

    Any game of the Haiti earthquake will have to make coordination a central feature. But how should that be done in terms of game mechanics? How can the game system recreate the objective challenges of coordination? Coordination has opportunity costs too: while it is essential, it takes time and effort, and may even become something of a bottleneck.

  5. Pingback: Gaming Haiti and the challenges of HADR operations | Wargaming Connection

  6. Rex Brynen says:

    As in all game design, it will be essential for teams to keep in mind the intended audiences and purposes of the game—in this case, in professional military and humanitarian education. What does that mean for the game design? How complex–or simple–should it be? How long should it take to play? How many players should it have? How much instructor support should be assumed? What key lessons ought to be imparted?

    There are many trade-offs involved here. A complex and lengthy game might address more aspects of HADR operations in Haiti, but that complexity might also hamper its classroom usefulness.

    Further complicating matters is the range of users. To what extent might a game design build in scenarios and variants with different focus, complexity, and duration, so as to appeal to a broader range of particular users with different primary interests?

  7. Rex Brynen says:

    I’ve updated the recommended materials to include Operation Unified Response: Reconstruction and Analysis of the US Navy Response (with thanks to Phil Haussmann for passing it on). It’s a lengthy document, but packed with useful information on the role of the US Navy.

  8. This is an interesting challenge. I guess the one of the first things I’d like to figure out is by what metric the players will be scored. Will it be lives saved? Or public opinion? Or how well they represented their organization? There are a lot of possibilities.
    Another thing to consider is what the long term ramifications of one’s actions will be. I don’t know much about Haiti, but from what I’ve read the hundreds of millions of dollars that were instantly raised seemed to have done not much good. Was there, is there, anything that could have been done to have set Haiti up for its recovery better? If that element could be incorporated into the game, all the better.

  9. Pingback: Off to Connections 2012 « brtrain

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  11. John Hoven says:

    Ronald Skip Cole asks, “by what metric the players will be scored”?
    Might it be useful to recognize that relief operations are an ill-structured problem, for which the objectives are unknown — certainly not in advance, and certainly not by any quantitative metric?

    Ben Connable has proposed a counterinsurgency “bottoms-up assessment process” that recognizes that. Each battalion prepares a local assessment, and sends that up to the brigade (Army) or regiment (Marine Corps) level. That level prepares an executive-level summary of the battalion reports, adds its own analysis, and sends the entire package (including the battalion assessments) up to the theater level. See Ben Connable. “Embracing the Fog of War: Assessment and Metrics in Counterinsurgency,” RAND (2012)

    Click to access RAND_MG1086.pdf

    In a wargame, this might be simulated by having everyone write a brief report at the game end (or at intermediate stages). Those get sent up to mid-level analysts (perhaps some of the same people, in a different role overseeing other player’s reports). Then the mid-level reports get sent up to a final panel of judges who decide how to assess the individual contributions. Or they could be distributed to all of the players, each one does a self-assessment, and that forms the basis for a group discussion.

  12. Rex Brynen says:

    There were a number of requests for the slides that David Becker and I presented today at the Wargame Design 101 session, so I’ve added them above.

  13. Rex Brynen says:

    Thanks, everyone, for making this year’s Game Lab such a success! I was really impressed by the quality of the discussions that took place in the three groups, and I think they generated some excellent design ideas. In a few months we’ll renew the challenge, and see if we can make progress of developing a playable design in time for Connections 2013.

  14. Pingback: Connections Game Lab: The Real-Life Spin-Off | Wargaming Connection

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