A 'Disaster Hero'

A ‘Disaster Hero’

Jax professor leading efforts on disaster preparedness video game

By Matt Galnor

Dr. Madeline Joseph

A UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville associate professor of emergency medicine is leading a $1 million grant to develop an interactive video game teaching children what to do when a natural disaster hits.

Madeline M. Joseph, M.D., chief of the division of pediatric emergency medicine, is chairing the task force for an American College of Emergency Physicians grant to develop the web-based game and an accompanying website. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funded the project.

“Disaster Hero” is in the final stages of development and scheduled for release in the next few months, Joseph said.

The game will emphasize getting an emergency kit together, having a disaster plan and being informed. It will be targeted to youth, parents and teachers with a focus on what to do before, during and after a hurricane, tornado or other type of disaster.

“In a household, if everybody’s injured, you may be relying on children to save themselves or take care of the adults,” Joseph said. “They need to know what to do.”

The core of every game is being prepared to teach children to recognize injuries common in specific types of disasters and use appropriate techniques for personal protection before, during and immediately after a disaster, Joseph said.

That used to be a role specifically for parents, but that mindset has changed, particularly after the tremendous losses in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she said.

Now, people realize they’ll need all hands on deck — including the littlest hands in the family — if a major emergency strikes.

The game is designed for children ages 7 to 12 and will tailor scenarios geographically to prepare children for situations they are more likely to encounter. For example, students in Kansas would need tornado or flooding information but probably not hurricane preparedness.

Joseph’s interest in disaster preparedness began in 1994 when a tornado tore through Birmingham, Ala., where she was doing a fellowship. When she came to Jacksonville, she wanted to stay involved in disaster preparedness. She served as the Disaster Medical Officer at University Medical Center from 1996 to 1999.

The “Disaster Hero” project allows Joseph to combine her passions for children, emergency medicine and disaster training and she says she’s looking forward to integrating the game into what schools are already teaching.

“The children need to know how to protect themselves,” Joseph said. “And if the best way to get them that information and to overcome apathy related to disaster planning is to make a game that’s fun for them to play, that’s what we should do.”