A product to increase awareness of and preparedness for natural disasters.


Project Overview



Choose a complex system, use systems diagrams to map and understand it, and design a product that will create a longterm change in the system.





Adobe XD, Illustrator

Sketching, interviewing, secondary research, personas, journey mapping, wireframing, UI design, visual design, logo design, product design, systems thinking, systems diagrams

IxD 2: Systems, Erin Malone

5 weeks, Spring 2020

You can view the slides from my final presentation here.


Problem Statement


For this project, we needed to choose a complex system from a list of options to design a solution for. I chose the climate change option, since that is an issue that I feel strongly about and have tried to incorporate into other projects I've done at CCA.

Living in California, I've read a lot of scientific articles that attribute the increased frequency and severity of recent wildfires to climate change. For this project, I chose to focus on the increase in natural disasters in California that is, in part, attributed to climate change.

As someone who grew up in California, the issue of natural disaster preparedness and response is incredibly important to me. One of my earliest memories was taking shelter under the lunch table at my preschool during the 2003 San Simeon earthquake while my mom was at work near the epicenter of the quake. Almost every year in recent times, I've watched countless families in my community evacuate due to wildfires. Myself and thousands of other students in my hometown school district missed weeks of school during my senior year due to dangerous air quality. Most recently, I saw several communities in my home county devastated by the Montecito mud flows in 2017.

With these experiences in mind, I wanted my project to address natural disasters in California in a way that can mitigate injuries and lives lost. I planned to do this by understanding the system and implementing my solution at the correct point to create change in the way we prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

HMW . . . ?

This led me to generate a short list of HMW... questions to guide me throughout the rest of the project.

How might we motivate people to prepare for a natural disaster?

How might we keep more people informed about possible dangers?

How might we help people respond to a natural disaster?




First, I wanted to verify what I had frequently heard from news anchors and journalists regarding California's frequent wildfires: are they related to climate change? How does climate change influence natural disasters? Here's what I learned:

Graphics explaining the link between natural disasters and climate change.


I also felt that I needed to understand the overall impact of natural disasters in the state of California. My assumption was that this was an important problem to solve based on my own experiences, so I wanted to find objective data that could confirm or invalidate this. I learned that natural disasters are a big problem that's only getting worse.

Data that explains the impact of natural disasters on the state of California.


My secondary research validated my concerns, so the next step was to talk to people to inform my provisional personas for this project. Since this project was done solo and only had a five week timeline, I conducted a single one hour interview.


My interviewee had a unique perspective as both a non-native Californian, but a long-time resident of the state nonetheless. This gave her insight into what it's like to come to the state with no knowledge of what to look out for/how to prepare, but she had also experienced several natural disasters since moving to the state.


The interview primarily focused on preparedness for a natural disaster, and general knowledge of disasters in California. In my secondary research, I had found data on Americans' preparedness (or unpreparedness) for natural disasters, so I wanted to see how my interviewee compared.

I learned that, despite being extremely concerned about natural disasters, my interviewee is also extremely unprepared for one.

Data that shows nationwide attitudes toward preparedness, and quotes from my interview that corroborate these results.




From my interview, I learned a lot of valuable information that helped me develop concepts. One thing I learned is that Californians need to be ready for a huge range of natural disasters: my interviewee had personally experienced many earthquakes and wildfires, and had received alerts and warnings for flash floods, tsunamis, tornadoes, and mudslides. This meant that my solution needed to be able to accommodate all of these.

Some issues with the way that natural disasters are currently dealt with are that the alerts are easy to miss – my interviewee has slept through them on multiple occasions, not heard them when her cellphone was in another room, or was unaware of it when the notifications were silenced by her phone's settings.

Lastly, she knows she should have a kit, but just not knowing what to put in it has left her not knowing where to start. I created four concepts that address these: a mobile app that helps you prepare and stay informed, a wall-mounted device that alerts you to dangers and gives you instructions on what to do next, advertising and signage to educate the public, and pre-made emergency kits.

Concept sketches: app, product, signage, and kit.




Using the insights and data from my interview and my secondary research, I created four provisional personas representing distinct groups of people who deal with natural disasters. I wanted to be sure that I was accommodating the different needs of many people in California, not just young people in the city, like myself.

The primary persona is a working mother who is concerned with keeping track of her household in the event of a natural disaster – she has more to worry about than just herself. This closely matched the life of my interviewee.

My secondary personas were a young person who had recently moved to California and is totally unfamiliar with natural disaster preparedness. Another is an older gentleman who lives in a more rural part of the state with fewer resources that are accessible in the event of a natural disaster. The last one is a child who spends time home alone and needs to be educated on natural disasters in a way that is productive and not scary.

First image: primary persona. Second, third, and fourth images: secondary personas.


My next step in understanding the system around natural disasters was to create a concept model showing all of the concepts that are affiliated with this system. I started on paper, first sketching a mind map and developing that into a more refined concept model. After that, I moved into Adobe Illustrator to refine it.

Mind map and two versions of my concept model.


I then created iterations of a stock flow diagram to show the factors that affect the overall number of natural disasters. Creating this diagram would help me identify which things my design needs to affect to have an impact on the system.

The first several versions of my stock flow diagram.


Using my stock flows, I was able to pull out multiple feedback loops. These show how different things in the system affect each other.


The first version of the feedback loops.


The ecosystem model would show everything connected to the topic overall. It was difficult to decide how to represent such a huge system, so it took several iterations and lots of check-ins with my professor and classmates for feedback to find a proper solution.

Multiple sketches and iterations of an ecosystem model.




I made changes to my systems models and diagrams as my understanding of the system improved, and the final versions can be seen in the slideshow below.

First image: primary persona. Second, third, and fourth images: secondary personas.


My solution is called Sentry. It is an alarm and an app that is designed to help prepare people for a disaster, notify them about risks, and help them quickly and effectively respond to a disaster.

Sentry logo.


I decided that there were two points in the system where it would be ideal to intervene and implement my solution: preparation for a natural disaster, and the immediate response to a natural disaster.

The first component of my solution is the Sentry alarm. Sentry is a wall-mounted device that provides real-time government emergency alerts.  The position on the wall makes for better visibility and easier access.


Sentry provides more reliable notification to the whole household than text-based alert systems alone. A phone on silent or not nearby means possibly missing an important notification. Additionally, not all phone plans allow for emergency government alerts – which means some people are at risk of receiving no notification of imminent threats until it's too late.

Normal phone alerts tell a user when an evacuation order or advisory is issued, but they don’t always say what to do next. It’s time-consuming and stressful in an emergency to figure out what to do. Sentry gives users verbal instructions on how to evacuate or take shelter Sentry’s delivery of alert messages helps children and others who may not be able to receive or read text alerts to respond safely and quickly to a disaster.

The Sentry alarm and key features and functions.


The app can be used with or without owning a Sentry alarm. If the user does own an alarm, it can be paired with the app, and the alarm's status and information may be viewed through the app. The app has several key features to help users:

1. Sentry alarm – The Sentry app provides updates on the status of the alarm for remote viewing (this is useful for people who work far from home and want to check in). You don’t need a Sentry alarm to use

the app – this makes information regarding natural disaster preparedness

accessible to a wider audience of people who may not be able to purchase a standalone alarm.

2. Newsfeed – See informational posts from your local government about risk levels (e.g. wildfire risks based on weather conditions) and discover websites and resources for preparing yourself and your household.

3. View alerts – Normal alerts tell you when things are dire and evacuation is necessary, but Sentry helps keep you informed and prepared by having multiple severity levels.


A color-coded light comes on: yellow (be aware), orange (get prepared), and red (evacuate now). Each level will present the user with information and advice. For example, a wildfire in a nearby city would prompt the user with a "get prepared" notification that gives them a list of important items to collect in the event that evacuation is necessary.

4. Emergency kit – Another helpful feature of the Sentry app is keeping track of your kit. You can input information about your household (e.g. how many children, how many pets?) and get a computer-generated list of emergency supplies that are recommended based on your location.

You can then check items off the list as you acquire them and log them in the app. By doing this, Sentry will be able to send you reminders to maintain your kit – meaning, check the batteries in your flashlight or swap out expired food.