Immersive, repeatable, and engaging. These are the building blocks of lead researcher Bekir Demiray’s web-based, interactive, serious game on flood protection and mitigation strategies for educating the public, specifically k-12 and college students. This game aims to inform people of the implications of future flooding events, as the public often underestimates the likelihood of extreme weather events. “Floods are a continuing and deeply severe issue for Iowans,” says Bekir Demiray, a Ph.D. student in Informatics at the University of Iowa. Throughout 2019, flooding in Iowa caused $2 billion in economic damages, yet there is still a lack of awareness among Iowans about flood risk management and the potential for damages and casualties due to a lack of preparedness.  

Once a computer science Master’s student in Turkey, Bekir Demiray was drawn to Iowa by an internship during the summer of 2018 at the University of Iowa’s Hydroinformatics Lab. This internship allowed him to use machine learning (automated algorithm model building) with a wide-reaching application as the corkscrew to unstop the bottleneck of region-specific classical approaches to environmental issues, i.e., the current norm. While working on projects in Turkey that focused on applying deep learning (e.g., machine learning, AI, etc.) to environmental datasets, Demiray realized the scarcity of such approaches here and thus decided to become a Midwesterner.  

Bekir Demiray works under Ibrahim Demir, an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Iowa. When asked what impact Demiray has had on the hydroinformatics lab, Demir stated that the engineering student has worked on Digital Elevation Models and increased their resolution through various DEM super-resolution methods.  

In 2021, Demiray received funds from the Iowa Water Center Supplemental Student Grant Competition Program. This competition selects research projects that seek to address emergent water resource problems in Iowa. Preference is given to up-and-coming scholars who will significantly impact their field of research. Demiray was awarded $5,000 from the grant program to create a web-based, serious game to educate the public on flood mitigation strategies. A more thorough understanding of mitigation strategies leads to “a significantly higher probability for individuals to take action and responsibilities in their communities in response to natural disasters,” says Demiray, outlining his hopes for the project. He matched the grant with $10,000 from partners and university support.  

 The game that Demiray is developing is set to feature real-world data and locations with a 3D gaming environment while utilizing cartoonish 2D sprites on a tile-based game map that features simplified street map imagery and elevation data. This in-depth game setup is thanks largely to a focus throughout Demiray’s work on “computer vision and time series analysis,” says Ibrahim Demir. These various effects will come together to produce realistic flooding events and an in-depth flood report outlining impacts on the community.  

Players can choose a location, examine the city for its terrain, infrastructure, and vulnerabilities, and then strategize ways to mitigate the flood risk within a limited time frame and budget. Following this, a simulated flood event will take place, and players will be able to examine fatalities, economic damages, societal impact, and more in a flood report similar to that of a United States Geological Survey (USGS) real-life flood report. Players can choose from various mitigation strategies, such as a flood wall, structure elevation, barrier protection, slope stabilization, etc.  

The future of this project is one with far-reaching hopes. From presenting at conferences for academic communities and publishing in journals to engaging with urban/rural communities in public venues, this game is set to pave the way for the future of scenario-based natural disaster gaming technology. Demiray notes that other natural disasters can be implemented into the game in the future, with their specific mitigation strategies, to create a generic platform to educate the public. And further, the game will be a tool to test the effects of serious gaming on platforms such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.