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Case Study:  Brooklake Christian School

January 2012
L.O.S.T. 8th Graders Find Way to Notify Public in Emergencies
“It has always been our hope to help save lives in our community. It is now our hope that this idea will soon be used around the Nation.”
The word “lahar” evokes a special respect among the locals in the Pacific Northwest. A lahar is a deadly tsunami of mud, melted snow and boulders that will smother towns near a volcano such as Mount Rainier when it next erupts. Residents of places such as Orting, WA, which is located at the mountain’s base, are only too well aware.

When students in Mrs. Gentry’s 8th grade class in nearby Federal Way, WA, learned that neighboring Orting was in the bulls eye of a lahar event, it was not long before action was proposed. Recalls Gentry, “Four of our young ladies became concerned about the lack of visibility of our local volcano evacuation signs and came up with the idea of adding flashing lights to them.” With Gentry’s coaching, the four girls began researching and testing the idea, and formed the school’s “Lights On Signs Technology” (L.O.S.T.) team.

As a class project, they created a prototype sign, and the results were profound,” states Gentry. “Flashing lights – that could be triggered to activate when the emergency was detected - greatly increased the visibility and response to the signs.” Sheri Badger of the County’s Department of Emergency Management says, “You see these signs all the time, so you don’t notice them after a while. The lights call attention to the signs.”

The L.O.S.T. group selected Information Station Specialists in Michigan to assist with the final design. With the help of Jody Woodcock and Tom Sharp of Pierce County Emergency Management, three of the flashing beacon upgrades were procured and installed on evacuation signs near Orting, because its 6,700 residents would feel the impact first should the mountain erupt. “It’s an awesome idea,” adds Sharp. “I wish we could have done it sooner.”

The County can trigger the sign beacons to flash remotely via VHF radio in concert with their outdoor (siren) warning system. But unlike sirens, the signs both indicate the specific hazard and tell motorists what action to take (the direction to travel) to avoid danger.

Sharon Gentry states, “As they worked on this project, the girls came to recognize that tsunamis, hurricanes, flash floods and industrial accidents also pose a risk to millions of people in our country, and if flashing lights were added to those evacuation signs, they would greatly enhance their visibility while also delivering an instantaneous warning of the impending danger.”

The students’ idea garnered the support of local leaders, as well as Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, and was selected as one of eight national finalists in the federally sponsored Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation Science Contest.

"What Sharon and her students did was outstanding,” comments Bill Baker of Information Station Specialists. “They pioneered the idea of adding this technology to any existing evacuation sign, allowing emergency managers to retrofit signs already in their jurisdictions. This becomes a simple means to quickly get motorists’ attention and instruct them how to avoid danger.” Baker says flashing beacons on informational road signs could be triggered automatically by an onsite NOAA/SAME (Specific Area Message Encoder) receiver in areas prone to sudden, deadly hazards such as tsunami, avalanche, fog, flash flood, industrial hazard, etc.

In the words of the L.O.S.T. team, “It has always been our hope to help save lives in our community. It is now our hope that this idea will soon be used around the nation.”
Photo, left:  Brooklake Christian School’s “Lights on Signs Technology” team members Sara Yazdi, Alyssa Wolf, Hannah Zeitler and Jordyn Wintersole pose with a prototype “flashing lights” sign in front of the Town of Orting, WA, Public Safety Building. The students presented their proposal to the Town Council.


























Left:  The final sign design. Signs are solar powered and controlled remotely by wireless.  This photo illustrates why beacons are needed. Evacuation signs tend to blend into the local environment − especially for residents and regular commuters. They get noticed when the beacons begin to flash.

Information Station Specialists’ Flashing ALERT Sign product was the basis for the students’ final design and has gained acceptance with emergency managers in recent years in military applications (Travis and McGuire AFBs, Forts Bragg and Rucker), port authorities (Port of Stockton) and dozens of communities across the US. The signs and beacons are commonly used to direct attention to local area information radio stations and/or to take a specific emergency action when beacons flash.



Seattle's King 5 Crew Interviews StudentStudent Alyssa Wolf points to a standard volcano evacuation sign while being interviewed for Seattle’s KING 5 News program.
SIDEBAR: 



Flashing Sign at Military Post





Sign similar to Fort Rucker's
Lost Senior Citizen Located near Fort Rucker with Help of Flashing Sign Technology
Below is a timeline reported by Fort Rucker’s MP Desk Sergeant following a report of a missing person at the post.
9:30 am Domestic dispute results in elderly male with history of confusion, departing from home on foot – reported by his wife as missing.
10:40 am Incident reported to Fort Rucker Military Police who initiate a search of facilities and roads and issues BOLO (Be On Look Out) to surrounding law enforcement agencies.

A description of the missing person was broadcast on
Fort Rucker’s 1640 ALERT AM Radio Station. Motorists were
notified to listen by Flashing ALERT Signs that were activated to flash their amber beacons.
5:15 pm Lost individual was located by a citizen who saw one of Fort Rucker's beacon signs flashing earlier in the day and monitored the 1640 AM broadcast to learn the description of the man.

The citizen recognized the man in a nearby town and contacted local police who picked him up and returned him to his wife in good health and condition.
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