Japan’s devastating March earthquake was an eerie experience for many San Franciscans. In the wake of that tragedy, we couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had a quake of that magnitude struck our own fault-riddled region. We have come a long way in terms of bringing buildings up to code, and that work is ongoing, as many Cal fans know. But it’s been 22 years since the last major quake rocked our city. If disaster struck tomorrow, do you know what you’d do?

We’ve already posted on the impact that gamification, or turning desired functions into games, could have on government. Recently we came across an example of a group that is using the idea, plus a sophisticated suite of engagement techniques, to bring public safety outreach into the modern era.

California Watch is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and they really thought outside the box in launching their On Shaky Ground campaign, which focuses on seismic safety in California schools and teaching kids about earthquake preparedness.

Color Me Safe

For example, they used crowdsourcing to create Sunny the Watchdog, the mascot. And they weaved safety content into their Ready to Rumble coloring books, employing subtle gamification principles to educate kids when they are most focused and receptive. The fact that the books were printed (and downloadable!) in five languages means that many children (and their parents and grandparents) are able to read basic earthquake safety information for the first time. 2,000 of the coloring books were originally printed, but demand for them has been so strong that a total of 36,000 have since been produced.

The group also hosted a Twitter conversation with an emergency preparedness educator at the Red Cross, which resulted in people asking questions even the coordinators hadn’t anticipated, like “How do you best protect an infant who cannot duck, cover or hold on her own?”

Answer: All nursery furniture should be bolted down or secured, and be sure nothing like framed art or a heavy mobile can fall on a crib.

Reset applauds California Watch’s efforts to use new techniques and technologies to make us safer. We obviously won’t be able to prevent the next earthquake from striking, but as it’s been said, the best offense is a good defense. We can’t control the future, but we can use its technologies to be ready for it.