Wellington students compete to build a novel tsunami alert system

Thursday 27 June 2024

The students were taking part in the 2024 CRISiSLab Challenge, which aims to encourage young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

All 2024 participants, alongside the CRISiSLab team.

This year's CRISiSLab Challenge, hosted on Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University’s Puekahu Wellington campus, saw over 80 students from 15 Wellington colleges showcase their novel tsunami alert systems to peers and a panel of expert judges. 

The annual challenge is part-funded by EQC Toka Tū Ake and promotes interest in natural hazards research and STEM among Wellington Region’s high school students. 

EQC’s Principal Advisor Risk Reduction Caleb Dunne sat on the judging panel and was impressed by the calibre of new technology the students demonstrated. 

"They not only showed an impressive grasp of the complex science behind tsunami in their technical solutions, but they were also adept at communicating that science to their peers and judges.

“New Zealand has a long tradition of innovation in natural hazards research, and we want to see that continue to help us prepare for future events. 

“One of these students could be New Zealand’s next great scientist. If even a few of them follow a career into natural hazards or STEM, they could help create live-saving technology for New Zealand and the world.”

The challenge was created by Associate Professor Raj Prasanna, who leads the CRISiSLab out of Massey’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research. 

The idea behind the challenge was to help fill a gap in the number of researchers studying New Zealand’s natural risks, by showing students how STEM can be applied to the emergency preparedness sector.

Since its inception in 2021, his team has been growing the unique challenge from six schools participating in the first year to 15 schools this year. 

“The engagement with schools and students has been fantastic and we’ve even had requests to expand the challenge into other regions. We’re also seeing these students go back to their families and friends excited about what they’re learned, which helps spread awareness about resilience and emergency preparedness," Dr Prasanna says.

This year’s overall winning team was Ngāti Kokonati from Wellington High School for their lighthouse inspired tsunami alert system, which grabbed everyone’s attention when the test tsunami set off the beacon and an unignorable alarm.

Judges were especially impressed by how the group translated the physical alert to digital channels, including social media, email and a custom-made app.

The winning team included senior students Theo Keith, Toby Connor-Kebbell, Max Robati and Alex Berry. Alex says Ngāti Kokonati entered the challenge because it seemed like a fun way to improve their skills in STEM, especially in programming.

“We’ve always been interested in STEM, but hadn’t really thought about applying it to natural hazards before now. We definitely learned a lot about integrating programming with science concepts to build our model, and then thinking about how people would actually use it.

The team will have a chance to build further on their skills through a summer internship at CRISiSLab, which was part of their award. 

“We’re looking forward to learning more about programming especially and seeing whether natural hazards research is something we want to explore more,” Alex says.

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