“It’s been mobbed!”

by | Feb 16, 2024 | General, News, Training, Wildfire

Most disaster preparedness educators have a fantasy about people lining up to learn about disaster preparedness.

It’s our reality.

This past Saturday, we brought our Wildfire Board Game to the Steelhead Festival. This was a six-hour event put on by the Friends of Lake Sonoma. It was held at the Milt Brandt Visitor Center and Congressman Don Clausen Fish Hatchery in Geyserville CA, definitely the most beautiful setting we’ve been in:

The festival was somewhat eclectic. Vendors ranged from Fisheries and Wildlife agents demonstrating zebra mussel removal to the local archery association giving bow and arrow lessons, the local running store promoting running events, and independent artists selling hand-made crafts. All backed by live music and food offered by the Kiwanis Club, local restaurants, and two food trucks.

We were there with two game boards and, thankfully, three volunteers. Thankfully, because we were busy the entire time, and would have had no breaks if only two of us had been there.

The event photographer voiced it for us:

“I’ve been trying to get a picture of your booth, but it’s been mobbed!”

We played 45 games (possibly more, we lost count a few times) with 140 individuals racking up a total of 39 hours of learning time. The numbers bear out how busy we were: Given the approximate length of games and number of games played, our boards were in use 104% of the time. Not bad for what’s intended to be a quick learning snack!

This is what it looked like:

Now, we can’t claim sole credit for success. It was a beautiful day, and the event attracted thousands (final attendance estimates still pending).

In stark contrast to an another event we attended recently.

Three weeks earlier, we took the game to Farmers Market in Sebastopol CA. This is not a large market to begin with. That day, it rained steadily the whole time. Not only were there few market-goers, those that were there weren’t inclined to linger.

This is what it looked like:

Nonetheless, we played nine games with 11 participants for a total of three hours of learning time. (Our hope going in was at least five games, so we weren’t disappointed.) Our boards were in play a mere 26% of the time, the lowest number we have experienced.

So, what have we learned?

These events were part of our experiment in taking learning experiences to where people are. As opposed to trying to get people to come to special events such as preparedness fairs. From that perspective, both events were successful. They confirmed earlier data showing that our engagement rate correlates directly to the number of people in attendance. In other words, if there are people to attract, we attract and engage them. If they aren’t there, well, we can’t engage them.

Which bodes extremely well for our claim that our approach of games, fun and experiential learning gets people interested and inspired. Now we need to identify what types of events and locations are appropriate, and refine the game to suit different types of events and settings.

In the meantime, we claim bragging rights. When other disaster preparedness educators complain that they encounter apathy and can’t get people to engage, we can truthfully respond with, “We don’t have that problem!”