Gamifying evacuation training for volcanic eruptions in Merapi

Indonesia is located in an active seismic zone and is prone to the effects of volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and landslides. In the event of a natural disaster, the local population needs to evacuate. It is challenging to predict an event early enough to allow for sufficient time to evacuate. However, even if an event is detected early, the evacuation is often managed poorly. In a 2010 eruption, 277 people died, 186 people were injured, and only 160 people followed government instructions to evacuate at the first warning. This relatively high number of casualties was argued to be due to the lack of trust to the government and the less effectiveness of evacuation training in Merapi. As two recent tsunamis demonstrated, not much has changed since then.​

This project aims at developing a new training programme in a form of a game that will be more engaging and will cater to the needs of the local population. The project collaborates with the settlments near volcano Merapi. Merapi settlements live close to the active Merapi volcano, and therefore, volcanic eruptions are frequent and some of them require the local population to evacuate. However, responding to a disaster proved to be challenging in the past, and the barriers identified by Indonesian collaborators in the previous research, can be groups into the following categories:​

People of Merapi settlement have a spiritual leader, who appears to have a significant authority and level of respect in the community. At the same time, the community has a certain level of distrust to the government officials. In the event of evacuation, people tend to listen to and follow their spiritual leader rather than the instructions of Tagana team. This might negate disaster response efforts and put their lives at risk.​

Similar to other communities that do not have a spiritual leader, people of Merapi community often do not know how to behave in an event of the eruption and what the safest place for them would be. Many communities lack training. Apart from that, conventional training programmes are not very effective due to the low levels of literacy in the rural areas.​

The above challenges have a behavioural aspect at their core. They require finding ways to build trust and collaboration with the spiritual leader of Merapi community and educate the community about the evacuation procedures in the event of eruption. Games can be a more effective alternative to traditional training programmes, because they are more engaging and can cater to people with low level of literacy. They can also help to build trust and collaboration between the participants through collaborative game mechanics.​

Furthermore, the project can benefit the most vulnerable groups in particular. There are four warning levels for volcanic eruption in Indonesia, i.e. level 1 (normally active), level 2 (on guard), level 3 (prepared) and level 4 (beware). Generally, all people in Merapi must evacuate when the warning level reaches on level 4. However, evacuation policy in Indonesia prioritises women, children, and senior citizen. It dictates that they have to be evacuated if volcanic activity reaches level 3, because they are considered as vulnerable group, which requires more time and energy, and is in greater need of the shelters.​

At the same time, traditional patriarchal culture in this area creates situations in which women would seek for guidance from the male heads of the family and local spiritual leaders, rather than follow the official evacuation procedures, which demand that they start evacuating first. This puts them at even greater risk. Therefore, developing a new approach to training is so crucial. By applying the proposed evacuation training, the project aims at reducing the risk of harm from volcanic eruption particularly for the most vulnerable groups of the community, i.e. women, children, and senior citizens. In the future, in the event of a disaster, they will be better prepared to evacuate independently.​

The project is lead by Dr Agnessa Spanellis in collaboration with Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia. The project is GCRF-funded.​