By Mary O’KEEFE
Responding to an emergency is not just about someone coming when called; it takes a lot of science, technology and research before those who can help come to the rescue.
Kids in the area are learning how much emergency responders have to know and will even take their turn at creating some new ways of responding to whatever natural, or manmade, disaster is facing them.
On Saturday, local youth went to the Montrose Program Center, for years known as the Girl Scout House, to get some advice about how to approach and prepare for this year’s FLL (FIRST LEGO League) challenge.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by inventor Dean Kamen. The mission of FIRST is to make science and technology fun and rewarding. Locally three high schools – Crescenta Valley, Clark Magnet High and La Cañada – have teams that compete in the annual FIRST robotics competition, but younger children are also interested in robots, science and technology.
For kids eight to 14 years old, FLL provides a challenge each year that requires teams to work together innovatively to win the competition. This year the challenge is titled Nature’s Fury. The teams will be presented with a series of storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters. They will build a field table where they will be asked to respond to a disaster scenario of their choice.
The foundation of the challenge is to get kids thinking about the science behind disasters. In the FIRST explanation of the project Nature’s Fury, an example is given as to how understanding the earth can help save lives. The story was shared of a 10-year-old girl who was in Phuket, Thailand in 2004. The little girl and her family were playing on the beach when she noticed the ocean was bubbling. The little girl had watched a video of a tsunami when she was in school. She realized the bubbling water, just like in the video lesson, was a sign of a tsunami and quickly got her family to safety. The family shared what their child had learned with the hotel staff and everyone got to somewhere safe before the huge wave arrived.
The challenge now for FLL teams is to choose a community where a natural event could cause a natural disaster, identify the problem (earthquake, tsunami, etc.), create an innovative solution and present the scenario to judges.
During their preparation for the challenge, teams must reach out to those in their community who work as emergency responders.
Daren Reid, a Rosemont Middle School parent, started mentoring an FLL team after the school had canceled its FIRST FLL program. His team, #2660, is called Space Energy and Time.
Reid said the program, in which his son took part last year, was fun and offered a rich experience but it was a big commitment.
“I [have seen] just how challenging it is to work with teens and preteens,” he said of what he has learned so far as coach. He added that kids get so much out of the program that his time is well worth it.
In preparing for the challenge, Reid invited Paul Dutton, captain of CERT [Community Emergency Response Team] to talk to the team.
“Paul Dutton came out and talked about emergencies,” he said. “What a great experience.”
Reid said Dutton brought a lot of information to the team about what would have to be done in response to a disaster and what type of equipment is used.
This is sixth grader Lainy Ann Dickson’s second season with FLL. According to her mom Leslie, her daughter has learned a lot from the program and has had a great time.
“She is talking about engineering,” Leslie said of her daughter’s future goal. Leslie is a coach of her son’s team and she, too, understands the commitment and the costs.
“It is expensive,” she said. “The robots cost $500.”
Teams do fundraising to cover costs and coaches like Reid and Leslie are always looking for science and technology mentors. But both coaches praise the program for the wide range of experiences it offers their children.
“I like working as a team,” said Lainy Ann. “And [I like] programming and building the robot and combining other [team members’] ideas [then use those ideas] to complete the robot … I like the competition.”
Lainy Ann is part of a Girl Scout FLL that is mentored by CVHS team 589.
“They are really nice and have helped me a lot,” she said.