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Philadelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Photo of the game field used to challenge robots teams have built. Objects in the photo include various obstacles that are designed for teams and their robots to overcome. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMAPhiladelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Photo of the game field used to challenge robots teams have built. Objects in the photo include various obstacles that are designed for teams and their robots to overcome. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMA

Sounds like it could be a new Ready Campaign, doesn’t it?  But, actually, it’s the tag line for this year’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) Competition challenge: “Nature’s Fury.” 

Here’s the background: In early fall of each year, FLL releases their challenge, based on a real-world scientific topic. Teams of up to ten children, along with an adult coach, enter the challenge and compete by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game) and developing a solution to a problem they have identified (The Project Presentation) guided by FLL Core Values during an official tournament.

In the 2013 Nature’s Fury Challenge, 200,000 children ages 9 to 16 from over 70 countries explored the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams discovered what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.

Given the topic of this year’s challenge, FLL reached out to FEMA Region III to see if any emergency management experts would be interested in volunteering as judges for a Qualifying Tournament scheduled for Saturday January 11 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA. 

Interested? Of course I was! Legos and Emergency Management are two of my all-time favorite things. I quickly submitted my name, attended training, and excitedly awaited the opportunity to see what the teams had devised.  Our Regional Administrator, MaryAnn Tierney, had also planned to participate but couldn’t do so that weekend since Region III was activated in response to a chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia.

When I arrived at the Franklin Institute I could immediately feel the energy and boundless enthusiasm of the teams, their coaches and the volunteers.  We paused for the Opening Ceremony and Pledge of Allegiance after an initial round of project, robot design and core values judging.  Judging continued until just after lunch and then the focus shifted to the robot competition tournament.  The robot tournament room was sheer pandemonium—teams, coaches and volunteers all cheered wildly and encouraged the teams as they participated in the competition round.  The action paused at the end of the robot competition so that the final tournament results could be tallied but the energy in the room continued.   The teams laughed, clapped and line-danced as music blared over the speakers. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. 

Philadelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Members of the Moravian Academy Team assemble their robot prior to the completion of the competition. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMAPhiladelphia, Pa., January 11, 2014 -- Members of the Moravian Academy Team assemble their robot prior to the completion of the competition. Photo by Mike Sharon/FEMA

The Qualifying Tournament champions were That Other Team: Laura Dodds, Matt Lebermann, Charles Cote, Ian Beazley, CJ Stiles, and Kaity O'Hanlon. The team is from the University Scholars Program in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and is part of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School.  That Other Team’s project proposal was for a mobile app that would use the barometric pressure sensors now being included in many smartphones to improve and localize tornado warnings now broadcast by other sources.  The team had clearly done their homework and done it well.  They understood the tornado threat, had looked at how tornado warnings were issued and explored current and emerging technologies.  Best of all, they started off their presentation with a light-hearted skit with characters from the Wizard of Oz.  Their project proposal was extremely impressive while still being fun (an FLL core value).  We wish That Other Team and all the other qualifying teams the best of luck as they continue the competition.

I can’t imagine a better winter Saturday than spending time with a young people who were really excited to find creative solutions for real world emergency management problems caused by nature.  The exposure and experience they gained by working through these issues in their teams allowed them to not only learn more about the science and engineering needed to devise such solutions, but they also were able to gain valuable insight and feedback from professionals in the field  for which they were improvising these solutions. 

It was a great experience for me--a judge—too. It was a chance to have a positive impact on potential future emergency managers, and the solutions they proposed for real world problems reminded me that there is a younger generation out there looking up to us, wanting to be just like us one day. That’s pretty cool. As were the Legos!

(Editor's note: We are providing links and references to third party sites and organizations for your reference. FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, organizations or services.)

Last Updated: 
02/03/2014 - 13:02
Posted on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 16:41
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