Collins is taking a proactive approach to severe weather preparedness, thanks to the work of a group of fourth- and fifth-graders.
The Collins Elementary talented and gifted (TAG) students created a map that shows which homes in the town have basements and which ones do not. The map was created as part of their involvement in the First LEGO® League competition.
The theme for this year’s competition was focused on natural disasters, so the students had to come up with a solution to a problem that involved natural disasters. TAG instructor Cherrine Bates said the idea for the basement map stemmed from a discussion the students had about places people can go during severe weather events.
"One of the students said, ‘I don’t have a basement. What am I supposed to do?’" Bates said.
After deciding they wanted to make a map of basements in Collins, they had Collins Mayor Brett Comegys come in to speak to them about what the community does to prepare for weather emergencies. He told the students about how it would be nice to have a storm shelter for residents to use, but funding is not available for one.
The students used the Story County Assessor’s website to determine which houses in Collins had basements and which ones did not. With the help of Matt Boeck, Story County GIS coordinator, the students went down each street on the map and marked the ones with basements. It took the students a little more than one hour to look at all the houses, with each student taking a street and researching the houses along that street.
"It was surprising how many people didn’t have a basement," said fifth-grader Grafton Gillespie.
Boeck then showed the students how to color-code the map to make it easier to see identify the homes with basements and the ones without.
As part of the LEGO League competition, the students also had to create a skit about their project. The skit was about a family that didn’t have a basement. The family talked to their neighbors, who had a basement and were able to seek shelter in their neighbors’ home when a tornado came. The students were recognized by the judges for the map they created. The judges told them it was a "bright idea" and the concept could be used in other communities.
In addition to presenting the map at the competition, the students also showed it to the Collins City Council. The students wrote two letters, one that will be sent to residents with basements and another to residents without basements, that will be included with the map when it is distributed by the city to residents. Comegys said the map and letters will be mailed sometime this month, since Severe Weather Awareness Week is March 24-28.
The ultimate goal of the map is to have residents see which of their neighbors has a basement, then talk to them to see if they can use their basement during severe weather events.
"We want to encourage them to start having that dialogue," Comegys said.
The town’s fire and rescue department will also benefit from the map in the event of a house fire. Knowing whether or not there is a basement in the home will make them more aware of the type of structure they are dealing with, Comegys said.
"It’s just one more example of how Collins takes what resources they’ve got and makes the best of them," Comegys said of the map.