Teenagers learn to deal with double disaster

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "Swim it to the top. There you go," an instructor told a group of students as they surrounded two inflatable swimming pools.

While one group of students tried to maneuver a Remotely Operated Vehicle under water, another group enjoyed a face-to-face encounter with a real fish.

"Feel its teeth, but be careful," warned the instructor. "These guys are dead, but they can still bite."

On Monday, about 150 students from six high schools in Mississippi and Louisiana received hands-on lessons on marine life and high-tech underwater equipment.

"It was pretty cool, because he said you can use the ROV to do many things, to get sediment from the ground," said Joseph Stinson, a Gulfport High School senior.

The High School Outreach Program was offered for the first time this year at the Oceans '09 Marine Technology Conference in Biloxi.

"To try and educate them about the value of science and technology to perhaps motivate them to get into that field as a career," said Dr. Ted Bennett, the High School Outreach Committee Chairman.

The highlight of the event was a lesson called E-Mission. The students faced a frightening scenario.  A category 3 hurricane was bearing down on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. On top on that, a volcano started to erupt.

The students had to use their math, science, and teamwork skills to evaluate the emergency situation and move 1,300 people to area shelters.

"We're going to use the two available helicopters to transport critical patients to St. John's if needed," one student announced during the mock incident.

"It's stressful," said Poplarville High School senior Jonathan Broom.  "I have to monitor all the data and make decisions about what's in danger."

Using video conference technology, a commander from West Virginia guided the students through the disaster drill and peppered them with questions.  In the end, everyone survived and the students felt a sense of accomplishment.

"It's more difficult then I imagined it would be," said Elizabeth Jones, a Poplarville High School senior.  "And it gives me a whole new perspective and a whole respect for the emergency personnel who deal with our hurricanes here on the coast."

This year's Oceans Conference also includes social events and tours of area attractions.  The last time the event was held on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was in 2002.

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