The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, Fla., held a grand opening of its Disasterville exhibit on August 4, 2006. Attending from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Florida Integrated Science Center offices in Tampa and nearby St. Petersburg were Kim Haag, Dennis Krohn, and former center director Lisa Robbins. Disasterville is an exhibit that explains the perils of eight major natural hazards: hurricane, hail, flood, wildfire, tornado, earthquake, volcano, and lightning. The USGS was involved in the exhibit's earliest stages and was instrumental in the decision to expand its focus away from the more local hazards of hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes to hazards that may affect the entire Nation. Personnel at USGS offices in both Tampa and St. Petersburg were a scientific resource for the museum.
The USGS was one of many major sponsors attending the opening ceremonies; others included the Institute for Business and Home Safety, the National Weather Service, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Tampa's Bay News 9 provided publicity for the opening, and the TV station's chief meteorologist, Mike Clay, was a keynote speaker. To make the evening more authentic, Lupton's Catering donated a delicious meal with the same food line they gave first responders after Hurricane Katrina.
USGS personnel worked closely with Wit Ostrenko, President of MOSI, early in the process to develop multiple natural-hazard scenarios. Ostrenko ran an early brainstorming session, called a "charette," at the USGS office in St. Petersburg. A key turning point in the project occurred in 2003 when the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a major grant to MOSI to design and proceed with the exhibit. USGS senior scientist Lisa Robbins had helped review the grant proposal and was later appointed to MOSI's Board of Directors, strengthening the ties between MOSI and the USGS. After that, USGS hydrologist Kim Haag was asked to join the MOSI CIRQLE, a senior advisory group that organizes special events two or three times each year, featuring keynote speakers from around the world.
The Disasterville exhibit came into focus when a team from the Walt Disney Co. came to MOSI and held a 2-day workshop to create imaginative scenarios for the exhibit. Dave Conley, MOSI's Vice President of Exhibits, set up and organized the workshop. USGS geologist Dennis Krohn was able to provide technical expertise at the workshop, along with scientists from the National Weather Service and emergency-response officials from Hillsborough County. Many of the ideas developed at this workshop became part of the final exhibit. A unique aspect of working with the Disney team was that they provided real-time cartoon graphics to help illustrate ideas that the participants were trying to conceptualize.
Several of the display ideas for Disasterville came from exhibits that USGS centers had used for their open houses (for example, see URL http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/exhibits.html). A wave tank shown at the 2005 USGS open house in St. Petersburg became the major part of the MOSI exhibit's Tsunami area; the cutaway cross section of an erupting volcano used at numerous St. Petersburg outreach events became a model for the different layers of a volcano displayed at MOSI; geologists Dina Venezky and Mike Clynne of the USGS Volcano Hazards team in Menlo Park, Calif., provided rock samples for the MOSI Volcano exhibit; and MOSI's earthquake-shaking and seismic exhibit, complete with ancient seismometers, is similar to earthquake exhibits offered at the USGS 2006 Menlo Park open house (see URL http://openhouse.wr.usgs.gov/exhibits.html).
The main thoroughfare of MOSI's exhibit, Disaster Street, has several immersive exhibits that surround the visitor with the sensations of disasters. A partly overturned house in the Tornado area has large plasma-TV screens to represent its windows and a realistic sound track to simulate an approaching tornado. A wind-tunnel tube in the Hurricane area lets a visitor feel the effects of being totally surrounded by winds of a (minimal) hurricane. A lightning exhibit at the Wildfire area lets the visitor feel an electric spark through a wire-mesh glove to experience lightning firsthand. The introductory focal point of the exhibit is a digital globe that shows geologic, water, and atmospheric features from a planetary perspective.
A far-sighted and innovative part of Disasterville is the Weather Quest exhibit sponsored by Tampa's Bay News 9. Here, four different groups of visitor volunteers respond to separate disasters and are required to prepare a response plan and present it to the public. Each disaster group has a dedicated set of computer terminals so that they get to experience firsthand the different roles that scientists, emergency-response officials, and the media play in a disaster. Text modified from the MOSI Web site describes this exhibit as:
"…a heart-pounding, "MINDS-ON," team-oriented, 'news' assignment interactive exhibit… As a news reporter you must MONITOR a series of weather and geological forecasting information. A deadly disaster is imminent, and you must GATHER and utilize scientific DATA to predict the development of potential chaos. You must work closely with your news team to IDENTIFY and SOLVE hazardous situations. Finally, in a mock TV News studio you will PREPARE and present your report forewarning the public of a natural disaster!"
For more information about MOSI and the Disasterville exhibit, visit URL http://www.mosi.org/disasterville.html.
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"Disasterville" Exhibit at Florida Museum