The uptick in natural disasters over the last 30 years has challenged future scientists and engineers to develop ways to prepare for and manage the fallout from future incidents.

But first they have to master their Legos.

In December, Salmon Creek Elementary hosted teams of 9- to 14-year-olds from Longview to Wilsonville, including home team the Huskybots, for two regional First Lego League Qualifying Tournaments. The annual event, run by volunteers including Skyview High School students and mentors, is designed to pique interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2013, teams tackled tests designed around battling nature’s fury.

Using Lego Mindstorms, teams built and programmed autonomous robots equipped to complete missions such as navigating ambulances into safe zones and plucking palm tree limbs from power lines.

The seven-member Huskybots, sponsored by the Travis Hays Literacy Fund, practiced accomplishing the tsunami and pet-owner reunification missions, selected for their high point values. “It’s different from just building things with Legos,” explained team member Jalen Johnson. “We have to program and work together.”

At the tournament, teams also participated in a technical discussion with a judging panel, completed a core values exercise, and presented a solution to a real-world problem. The Huskybots researched and developed facemasks to mitigate the effects of sandstorms in the Gobi Desert that have choked nearby Beijing, China.

In all aspects, the competition emphasized teamwork and professionalism. Although the Huskybots did not advance to the championship tournament, the experience helped the team broaden soft skills applicable to a variety of professional environments. The value was not lost on the fourth- and fifth- graders. Said Lorenzo Lombardi Brannon, “Communication is important. If you can’t communicate with your team, you can’t get anything done.”

In the workforce, that skill could prevent a disaster of a completely different nature.