I was 13-years-old when Hurricane Camille slammed the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My family stayed in our home that was located less than one mile from the beach. This Category 5 Hurricane was the only confirmed Atlantic hurricane in recorded history with wind speeds at or above 200 miles per hour.  However, the actual speed was never confirmed because when it made landfall it destroyed the monitoring weather equipment.

I remember Camille, especially what I saw of its path of death and destruction. So when I learned about five fourteen-year-old girls who were entering a robotics competition with a tool for emergency use following a hurricane, I was intrigued. Sara Gautreaux, Nia Hudson, Victoria Liu, Maygan Miguez and Lizzie Odell are the Dominibots. They are members of the junior robotics team at St. Mary’s Dominican High School, a 154-year-old all-girls school in New Orleans.

Natures Fury Members of St. Mary's Dominican High School Dominibots Robotics Team (from left to right): Victoria Liu, Nia Hudson, Sara Gautreaux, Lizzie Odell and Maygan Miguez at their first competition, the First Lego™ League District Qualifier event held in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary's Dominican High School)

Last fall the students met every Monday after school with their robotics coach, Crissy Giacona. Soon each member discovered her strengths and the power of collaboration. Their first competition was the First Lego™ League District Qualifier event held in New Orleans. “Nature’s Fury” was the competition theme. Entries were to focus on hurricane preparedness and safety. The Dominibots entered “The Hurricane Hacker.”

Growing up in south Louisiana, these eighth graders are aware of disasters. During Hurricane Katrina, Lizzy’s grandfather had sheltered in place at his New Orleans home. The Dominibots went to work designing their tool.  The Hurricane Hacker is an all-in-one survival tool which combines a hammer, axe, pry bar and blades. The tool’s handle features a knife, saw and reflective piece that can be flipped out from the handle. The reflective piece can be used to signal the location of the user to potential rescueres.

“It can be used to help hurricane survivors escape from their attics,” explains Lizzy.

“Once they are safely on their roof, they can use the reflective piece to signal rescuers.” Lizzy researched hurricanes and ways to prepare for them. Based on the research, she and Sara wrote an informative skit to promote the utilitarian tool.  “We added some humor because we thought that would help people remember what the tool does,” said Sara.

Victoria, Maygan and Coach Giacona addressed the task of programming and building “Minibot” – their EV3 Robot.  Nia wrote the Core Values Report, while Maygan and Victoria worked on the Robot Design Report. Sara authored the Team Information Report and designed the team poster.  Robotics assistance coach Anjel Guitroz advised on edits for the skit and reports. U.S. Air Force Sergeant Arthur Chatellier, a First Responder for Hurricane Katrina, met with the team and advised on tool enhancements, including the reflective device.

Talking with the team about their work, their respect for the power of Mother Nature and the importance of safety and preparedness is clear. The Dominibots won First Place in Project Design at the First Lego ™ competition. In January The Hurricane Hacker was selected among 74 entries for the Junior Achievement Junior Idea competition. Maygan and Lizzy are one of 16 Sweet Sixteen teams competing. Results will be announced mid spring.