While hazard mitigation planning is critical for local and state community officials, engaging other audiences on the importance of mitigation can further increase community resilience. Recognizing the next generation is full of talent, ideas, and passion, FEMA Region 8 partnered with Earth Force, a nonprofit organization for youth environmental education, to engage local students in mitigation planning.
The program, called the RISE Challenge (Resilience, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Environment Challenge), combines classroom learning with an annual competition and summit, focusing on natural hazards and student-led learning. Students work throughout the year to find vulnerabilities to natural disasters in their local community and submit a real-life solution to the identified risk. The winning projects are then awarded prize money to implement their solutions.
Through the program, students are empowered to be agents of change as they identify a local hazard risk in their community and build a solution to reduce that risk. This leads to increased resiliency in the community while creating long-term engagement and civic duty in students that is needed to ensure a robust response to the ongoing threat of climate change.
Originally named the Rocky Mountain Environmental Challenge (RMEC), the RISE Challenge was established in 2017 with the first competition occurring in 2018 in Colorado. Projects in past years ranged from local wildfire mitigation activities, to organizing a flood awareness event for a local trailer park community to installing park shelters at bus stops to keep people safe during storm events.
The 2021 winning project in Colorado was from Hotchkiss High School, where students created a wildfire simulation game to help educate residents in the Hotchkiss area of their risk as part of a larger Wildfire EXPO to raise awareness in the community.
Montana's 2021 winning project came from Missoula Online Academy, where students proposed a Youth Climate Advisory Committee to serve the city and county in climate change issues and environmental concerns.
In Illinois the winning project was submitted by Francis de Sales High School, where students proposed an education campaign for residents in the East Side of Chicago on how to disconnect their downspouts and prevent localized flooding.
Earth Force manages the RISE Challenge nationally, and FEMA is the primary sponsor for the program. Earth Force provides local organization with resources and tools to implement the program into their community and schools. Brightways Learning in Montana and the Environmental Education Association of Illinois (EEAI) will work with Earth Force to implement the program in their respective states. The Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation (ASFPM Foundation) provides the student award grants.
The RISE Challenge is currently open for participating schools in Colorado, Montana, and Illinois for the school year 2021-2022. The program is also available for adaptation to new communities across the country.