Related to MAKE 09, High School Lockdown
MakeShift 09: Analysis, Commentary, and Winners
by Lee D. Zlotoff
June 18, 2007
This was perhaps one of the trickiest challenges yet, with lots of possible solutions for how to establish communication with the outside world when confined in a school lockdown. And, despite the eerie coincidence of the tragic events at Virginia Tech, you all responded with an amazing display of MAKE ingenuity, proposing everything from semaphore flags to Yagi antennas to trying to produce homemade insulin for the stranded diabetic in the class! Wow.
Some of you seemed to think the challenge was a no-brainer and that a computer with wireless internet capability would easily find an open network and solve the problem. But most of you realized it was a bit more complicated than that, and a range of options from low- to high-tech might have to be tried to ensure a decent chance of success. Now, while trying to signal using Morse code and semaphore flags may look good on paper, the fact is almost no one in the general public knows them anymore so they probably wouldn’t get you very far. What’s more, they only provide a one-way communication, which isn’t really the optimum solution to the situation. But other low-tech forms of attracting attention—reflectors, bright signage, controlled signal fires—might still be worth a shot and at least alert someone enough to know there was a problem.
But what we were really thinking about—and hoping for—was how you might tweak or expand on the technology at your disposal to effectively establish a useful two-way connection. And here again many of you rose to the challenge with flying colors, proposing a slew of easily built antennas to boost the range of the computer, cell phone, or even the walkie-talkie—some of which we were convinced stood a very good chance of working. Plus some of you went the extra distance to consider the human dynamics of the situation by suggesting the class break into teams, each to work on a different potential solution. This approach not only increased your odds for success but also got the maximum number of people involved to keep the class focused on the project and diminish the likelihood of panic that can often accompany—and exacerbate—such situations.
Some of you really impressed the more technologically savvy among us, who want you on their team if they’re ever locked down somewhere. Others went outside the technological box and came up with some straight and to-the-point nontechnological approaches (e.g., posting a “NEED INSULIN” sign in the window). While we hope none of you ever needs to exercise any of the approaches you considered, it’s probably a terrific way to keep ourselves prepared by imagining how we would escape or improve a tough situation should we ever find ourselves or our friends in one.
So kudos to everyone for rolling up their sleeves and thinking hard about a way to overcome a situation we’d all rather not think about. But stretching our minds to really make the most of our techno-toys in a crisis has—and no doubt will—save lives in our increasingly unpredictable world. And that alone makes it worth the effort, no?
The winners of the MakeShift Volume 09 Challenge are:
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