Categorized | Education, Featured

Monserrat has a very bad day

Mission Control talks to the students at Waimea Middle School.

Mission Control talks to the students at Waimea Middle School.

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor
Photography by Baron Sekiya

Monserrat had a very bad day, but fortunately a group of Waimea science students leapt into action and saved lives.

Last week, Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School eighth graders joined in a high-tech simulation exercise to save lives on the tiny Caribbean island being threatened by an approaching hurricane and an erupting volcano.

Called “Operation Montserrat,” the interactive adventure used distance learning technology via the Internet and video conferencing equipment to link Naui Murphy’s students with Mission Control at the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

Operation Montserrat is based on a real historical event. As the mission unfolded, students used data fed to them by Mission Control to calculate details and dangers bubbling up from the Soufriere Hills volcano and a Category 3 hurricane approaching from the Atlantic Ocean.

Students had to use teamwork to analyze the data, make their predictions and formulate a plan to assist Mission Control in saving the residents from certain death.

They were applying what they have learned about earth science, the water cycle, weather, oceans and energy, the rock cycle, lithospheric plates, ecosystems and spheres, risk management, graphing, graph interpretation and math.

Kamele Sanchez, reports on the storm data for Hurricane Team.

Kamele Sanchez, reports on the storm data for Hurricane Team.

For example, the students were told Monserrat had a handful of shelters scattered across the island, eight buses that carried 40 people each and one car for every 20 residents. They then had to figure out how many of each would be needed to evacuate 500 townsfolk.

Meanwhile, the student volcano specialists calculated rock fall and volcanic tectonic data to predict what would happen next, correctly identifying the moment when the volcano blew.

The hurricane specialist team tracked the Category 3 storm, plotted its twists and turns, and calculated the estimated time of arrival on the island.

All the information was relayed back and forth between Mission Control and a fourth group of students serving as the communications team.

At the end of the two-hour exercise, the students heard one last message from Mission Control: “Congratulations, Team Firebrand 808. Your mission was successful. No lives were lost. I’d like to thank you for your partnership today, your assistance and quick emergency response. Mission Control, over and out.”

Murphy’s students broke into applause and cheers.

The Volcano Team analyzes data sent to them from Mission Control.

The Volcano Team analyzes data sent to them from Mission Control.

“It was very cool. It felt like it was really real,” said Josh Perry, who helped track the hurricane. “You really had to make sure you have clear information for the communications team. There was some science, but there was more math and that’s my favorite subject.”

Zephan Apostadiro spent the afternoon peering at a wall map of Monserrat, helping guide the evacuation efforts from various towns threatened by the pyroclastic eruption.

“This made me realize places and people need to be evacuated quick when something happens,” he said. “We used every single piece of transportation we had and we had a successful mission and we saved everyone.”

Apostadiro said he enjoyed the realism of the exercise.

“It felt really great to help out other people in natural disasters, but yeah it was kind of stressful,” he said.

“It was kind of loud but we were calm under stress. You need to be able to type and read quick (to be on the communications team),” Mason Dupont said. “It was fun. We have hurricane events a lot of times, so we know what can happen. And also we have a volcano, so we know how important it is to be prepared.”

This is not the first time Murphy’s students participated in the “Operation Montserrat” disaster simulation. The school conducted the national pilot program five years ago.

Murphy said the class had been studying natural disasters and performed very well.

“I’m very proud of them. On a hurricane scale, it was definitely a 5,” she said. “Because it is hurricanes and volcanoes, it just happens to be applicable to us here in Hawaii. The hardest part is standing back and letting them figure it out for themselves. They are getting to see how math and science applies to real life and real jobs.”

The Waimea school was chosen to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that claimed the lives of seven NASA astronauts. Among those lost was Kealakekua native Ellison Onizuka.

For more information about Wheeling Jesuit University’s Challenger Learning Center’s e-Mission program, visit

A chart of the teams involved in the Operation Montserrat exercise at Waimea Middle School.

A chart of the teams involved in the Operation Montserrat exercise at Waimea Middle School.

One Response to “Monserrat has a very bad day”

  1. Patti Cook says:

    It’s fabulous! Mahalo plenty! Patti Cook


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Sep 22, 2017 / 5:15 pm