Face Time: Bill Ashland — In the disaster biz

Since launching Disaster Game LLC in January 2008, Bill Ashland has created home and office versions of his what-would-you-do-if card game.

Bill Ashland

If a flood overtook corporate headquarters. If a spouse lost their job.

If romantic candlelight set your house aflame.

It’s all about planning ahead.

“(The Family Edition) actually has a warning on the cover, ‘This is not Monopoly.’ It deals with some serious and sometimes deadly issues,” said Ashland, of Auburn.

Recently, he’s seen interest from the insurance industry — he’s working on a deal for 1,500 Family Edition copies that the company would give out to customers who buy personal policies — and Ashland has ideas for utility, college and university, and municipality themed editions.

“All different flavors of Jello to hit the different markets,” Ashland said.

And what would he do if? Oh, he’s thought about it.

Name: Bill Ashland

Age: 49

Lives: Auburn

Married, relationship, single? Married (to Bev)

How was Disaster Game born? For seven years I led the Business Recovery portion of the Business Continuity Program at TD Bank, working with the various business lines on the creation, maintenance and testing of their plans. Testing plans was primarily done through tabletop exercises, where a “what if?” scenario is presented and discussed. In the beginning, these were very basic – “Something happened to your building, what do you do?” Doing over a hundred of these each year left me thinking about ways to improve. Since nothing ever goes as planned, and a disaster happening at two o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday is a completely different situation than one happening at two o’clock in the morning on a Sunday, it occurred to me that incorporating the element of chance could provide greater insights to planners. And, since almost nobody wants to take a test but you can usually find willing volunteers to play a game, introducing game play would make the entire process much more engaging. In 2007, I wrote up the idea as a speaker submission to an industry conference and it was accepted, forcing me to take it from concept to reality.

Where do you get ideas for scenarios? Many come from our own experiences. We went 11 days without power during the Ice Storm of 1998. Bedbugs are making numerous headlines of late, but it was my daughter’s fears about them while traveling on a business trip several years ago that prompted me to include them in the Family Edition. Every time I am away on a trip, something seems to go wrong at home, which was the inspiration for another card.

Are there any you’ve thought up and immediately nixed because, no, that’s too dark, or that will never happen ... In the original Corporate Edition, I made a conscious effort to try not to hurt or kill anyone within a scenario because of residual sensitivity over battles with Human Resources about how scary a subject this could be in a post-9/11 world. In reality, however, bad things do happen.

Have you gotten customer feedback that something dealt with in the course of the game later happened to them? We’ve had a lot of great feedback . . . but have not yet had one of those stories where a scenario used during a customer test subsequently happened for real. I fully expect one to come in, however, as it’s just a matter of time and chance. And planning (and testing those plans) always helps ensure a better outcome.

Given that your day job is imagining calamities, what do you do for fun? I enjoy movies where “they all lived happily ever after.” As you may have guessed from the format of the Disaster Game, I come from a family of card players, and family game night happens several times a week at our house as well.

Last movie recommended to a friend? “Love Actually” (our current favorite)

Last book? Currently reading “Dead or Alive” (the new Tom Clancy thriller). Robert A. Heinlein is my absolute favorite author and I always have one (or more) of his titles within easy reach.

What would you do if a hurricane, sewer issue and hostage situation all converged on Disaster Game headquarters? Have already had one of the three hit our headquarters, resulting in a $6,000 excavation project a few years ago (and inspiring an event card in the Family Edition). We have a (much discussed) reciprocal shelter agreement in place with our closest friends, where the impacted family can stay with the non-impacted family as long as needed, and we have family three miles away, 30 miles away and 1,500 miles away that gives us a variety of emergency shelter options in the event of a hurricane. Hostage situation? To quote Louis Gossett Jr. (from "An Officer and a Gentleman”): We’d employ “any means necessary, both fair and unfair” to ensure the safety and security of our family and friends.


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Would LOVE to get this game.

Would LOVE to get this game. Any plans for local distribution?


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