Earthquakes in Springtime

Salvete Omnes,

In our previous strategy meeting, we settled on an idea for our first Decision-Making Game: a natural disaster in a politically tumultuous region. We have now settled on some of the specifics.

An Earthquake of magnitude between 7 and 7.5 on the Richter scale on the Turkey-Syrian border in early 2012. This would work as an interesting simulation for a number of reasons: first, the region was (and is) suffering from a drought (the worst in 900 years, actually); second, this was during the Arab Spring and the beginning of the Syrian Civil War; third, the location and strength of the earthquake would likely trigger a tsunami in the Mediterranean, impacting Cyprus and the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula and possibly North Africa.

Depending on the response, this might altered the rise of ISIS and it might have cause the unprecedented humanitarian crisis to happen a few years sooner.

For the sake of modelling, I will say that the earthquake happens at 00:00 on March 1st 2012 at 36.36256 degrees north by 36.10746 degrees east and is of magnitude 7.5. These numbers may change, but they should be roughly right.

Now we must build a model of the scenario and the main research questions I am considering now are:

  • Which actors will be immediately impacted and what will their reactions be?
  • What in the infrastructure like in the affected region (say, 200 km surrounding the epicenter)? Is it designed to handle earthquakes?
  • How large and frequent are aftershocks likely to be? Is a tsunami likely (the East Anatolia fault is strike-slip, so maybe not)?
  • How are global actors with local interests (US, Russia, some European powers probably) likely to respond? How will the UN respond? What about aid organizations and NGOs?
  • What are the likely economic outcomes? How will oil and food production be changed?
  • How might this shift the political balance? What parties might find themselves in an advantageous position and how would they leverage that position?
  • What is likely to happen to the people living in affected regions? Specifically, how widespread will be lack of power, water, food, and medical care be?

These look like a good jumping-off point for model construction. Hopefully if we can answer them we will have what we need to construct a probabilistic simulation which can then be run to see which actions are likely to have the best outcomes.

What are you waiting for? Google is just a click away!

Decisions and the Making Thereof


I have floated this idea in meetings before, but I think now is the time to formalize it. When I was in middle-school, I attended a Duke TIP summer camp where I spent a few weeks learning about international relations around people who were much better at it than I. One of the things I remember best about that camp was a pair of games we played over two days. Basically, the class was split in two and one half would be given titles like “US Labor Secretary” or “US President” (I think they were all executive-branch positions in the US government) and the other side of the class would be ‘reporters’ who would make up increasingly horrific things that would happen in some ongoing crisis (a nuclear situation in North Korea, I believe).

Over the years I have tried to find this game and its rules again and while it is similar to Model UN and several government simulation games I have yet to find an exact replica and am convinced that my instructor made it up. Well, if he can do it, why can’t we? (Aside from a lack of a PhD or really any relevant experience)

To this end, I have begun scouring the web for similar games and have found disturbingly little, especial without paying thousands of dollars for a custom ‘solution’. Still, what I have found is promising and it seems the variety and scope of these games can be practically anything we can put our minds to. However, these games usually have many players (often a dozen or more) and have been set up in advance by experts. We are not experts, and there are not many of us, so we will require a bit of creativity to get a game that works.

I think the best way to design this is for everyone to act as both designer and player. We will first pick a topic or scenario we would like to explore, and then we will do as much research as possible about that scenario to the point where we could generate a reasonable probabilistic and mental model of the situation. Then, each of us will pick roles (including one game master) relevant to the scenario and play the game in the form of correspondence over Slack and decisions made public on here (probably under a special category for that game session). After a certain amount of time, the game master will collect the decisions and interpret them in light of the model we built beforehand and post the results of that cycle. The game continues until it is clear the crisis is either resolved or has evolved past the point where our model is any good.

This will probably be a game of many debates and discussion between the players and game master to decide if an outcome is realistic, this is a good thing as the whole point of this thing is to get us to understand what we are talking about. Imagine it like a court room, where we use precedence to decide how the game ought to unfold.

Anyway, feedback is highly encouraged as what I have right now is just the barest beginnings of a functional game. Also, we need ideas for good scenarios. Ideally these will be realistic modern or historical situations, but they needn’t be governmental (there are a lot of interesting first responder, business, and city planning ideas I have seen).

Ad Victoriam,