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Wilsonville students develop game dedicated to helping players learn about how to prepare for earthquake

COURTESY PHOTO - Brady Grant, Nathan Hershman, Sophia Culp, Wilder Doblie and Ethan Grant make up the Awesomebots Robotics team, which won a grant from the city of Wilsonville to further develop its emergency preparedness game.

Even though news about the possibility of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake has elevated awareness about the value of emergency preparedness in recent years, Wilsonville Public Works Director Delora Kerber is still concerned that not enough citizens are aware and even fewer are prepared.

A group of Meridian Creek Middle School students are hoping to change that.

"All messages we can get to drive that point home are fantastic," Kerber said.

With the help of a $5,600 grant from the Wilsonville government through the Metro Community Enhancement program, the Awesomebots Robotics Team will develop a board game to help players learn how to prepare for an earthquake. Meridian Creek may use the game in classes.

"We're super proud of this group of students who had a vision and have had great support and mentoring to see their vision come to fruition," Meridian Creek Principal Annikke Olson said.

The seventh grade students, which include Sophia Culp, Wilder Doblie, Ethan Grant, Brady Grant and Nathan Hershman, came up with the idea while participating in the FIRST Lego League, which helps students develop STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

In a competition, the students were tasked with coming up with a solution to a community problem. And, in light of reports that the Cascadia Subduction Zone could cause a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest and a recent visit to the Oregon State University's tsunami lab, they chose emergency preparedness. The group later conducted a survey that confirmed Kerber's fears about a lack of awareness.

"Not many people are actually prepared. A lot of people don't even know about the Cascadia Subduction Zone," coach Jason Culp said.

They felt a game could make learning about preparedness more accessible. Culp also noted that kids played an important role in getting parents to start wearing seatbelts decades ago.

"(The game) is the same theory. Get kids to learn about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and get their parents to be prepared for it," Culp said.

In the game, players respond to different emergency scenarios such as a cholera outbreak (caused by food or water contamination) and have to play cards that represent sound solutions.

"If you have a two-bucket system (card) or hand sanitizer (card) you can play that to combat that (the cholera outbreak) card," Culp said.

COURTESY PHOTO - The Awesomebots Robotics Team plays the game they created.

Some other lessons the game teaches include having cash available, keeping a picture of your pet handy that you can post in case the pet goes missing, and having aproper food supply for everyone in your household, including your pets, among other things.

The students presented the game to the Wilsonville Public Works Department, and the department provided pointers on how to make the game better reflect how individuals should respond to emergency scenarios.

"I thought it was a very creative idea that would be some way to help make learning about emergency preparedness more exciting, especially where the kids could play with parents, siblings — the whole family could learn more about it," Kerber said.

Officials then recommended the students apply for the grant program to garner funding for producing the game. Culp and company applied and the City Council agreed to award the grant. The grant will help the team make 100 copies of the game, and Culp said the money will, in large part, go toward hiring a professional to create more eye-catching game artwork than the clip art they initially used.

"We were talking about probably a year to get it through production," he said. "We're going to try to do that, even with the COVID situation, which is kind of difficult but doable."

The team also won the Global Innovation Award at a state Lego league competition for the game, which made them eligible to apply for participation in a national competition.

Additionally, the students have presented the game concept to a regional emergency responders committee and administration at Meridian Creek.

Olson envisions the game could be used in science, wellness and other classes once it's fully developed.

"It (emergency preparedness) certainly comes up through a variety of classes and themes. It (the game) could be a nice complement to that," she said. "Those (preparedness lessons) are part of health and wellness standards as well as thinking about our science standards and understanding the impacts of a natural disaster. It (the game) becomes a connection point for students."

Culp also said the group may distribute games to the Wilsonville library and other city facilities and surmised that it could create future versions that address other disasters like hurricanes or typhoons.

"The premise of the game is you're living the disaster to a certain extent," Culp said.

Regardless of whether the game takes off, Culp said the kids are learning valuable life skills and lessons.

"It's teaching kids (to find out) what the best answer is, what the most appropriate answer is," he said. "To me, that's really good preparation for life. In life there's not always one right answer. This project is one of those where we could have done a number of different things and they decided what they thought was the best."

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