Whidbey teens create quake video, shake fair-goers

Members of the 4-HD Video Club finish filming for their earthquake disaster preparedness video that will debut at the Whidbey Island Fair Aug. 16 through 19. They are filming a segment about what to do if caught on a beach when an earthquake strikes. From left to right are Isaac Cash, Dustin Scharwat, Avrey Scharwat and Patrick O’Brien. - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
Members of the 4-HD Video Club finish filming for their earthquake disaster preparedness video that will debut at the Whidbey Island Fair Aug. 16 through 19. They are filming a segment about what to do if caught on a beach when an earthquake strikes. From left to right are Isaac Cash, Dustin Scharwat, Avrey Scharwat and Patrick O’Brien.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

While other teenagers are playing video games and vacationing, a handful of Whidbey Island teens are preparing for an earthquake and tsunami of epic proportions.

When the Red Cross asked the 4-HD Video Club to make a video preparing Whidbey Islanders for the possibility of an earthquake and tsunami that would isolate the island from the mainland, club members leaped on the idea. Despite the severity of the danger and the seriousness of preparing for such an event, the 4-HD Video Club found time to have a little fun while educating islanders.

The group will debut their 45-minute earthquake disaster preparedness video at the Whidbey Island Fair Aug. 16 through 19 in Langley. Showings will be at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily in the Fine Arts Room in the Pole Building of the Island County Fairgrounds.

Headed by Robert Elphick, a geophysicist who worked mostly in the oil and gas business studying the subsurface of Earth, the 4-HD Video Club is unique to the 20 4-H clubs on Whidbey Island because it focuses on technology rather than animals. In the two years the club has existed, members have put quick-response codes on the Coupeville Wharf that, when scanned with a smartphone, lead to historical information, created high-tech posters for Whidbey Island Nourishes and made a number of videos, including an interview with a World War II veteran.

“A lot of people think that 4-H is just animals … it’s important to realize there are clubs out there like ours that are teaching them about technology,” Elphick said.

The Red Cross approached the group nine months ago and asked them to create a video that would prepare the community for disasters. The group latched onto the idea of earthquake preparation and started learning everything there is to know about earthquakes, Elphick said.

Four club members invested a number of days per week over the past nine months to put the project in action: 12-year-old twin brothers Dustin and Avrey Scharwat, Isaac Cash, 13, and Patrick O’Brien, 14.

Their educational journey into earthquakes took them to the University of Washington seismology laboratory, part of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which monitors earthquakes across the state. Despite the abundance of information, the kids already knew it all, thanks to Elphick, said Paula Scharwat, co-leader of the club.

The first half of the video fairgoers will see focuses on the geophysics of earthquakes, with special attention to the Cascadia Fault, which stretches from Vancouver Island to northern California. The second half of the video explains what Whidbey Island families can do to prepare for a disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

To create their video, club members put together a storyboard more than 50 pages long using Mac computer software, which Elphick, a member of Macintosh Appreciation Group of Island County (MAGIC), is devoted to teaching. The teens created moving animations and diagrams for their video and filmed sequences around the island.

Club members filmed interviews with Eric Brooks of the Department of Emergency Management, as well as members of the Red Cross and the Island County Amateur Radio Club and more. Their video covers topics like how to secure a house for an earthquake, how much food and water to store and what to do if the bridge and ferries are knocked out, leaving Whidbey isolated from the mainland indefinitely. The club found out that only three days of supplies would be available from local grocery stores.

They also filmed sequences detailing what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous location during an earthquake, such as near trees, and how to do “duck, cover and hold” for protection during an earthquake.

“We are now experts and it shows in the movie,” Elphick laughed.

“I’ve learned a lot of things that I never knew before and I really enjoyed doing this,” Avrey Scharwat said. Not only did he learn about local faults but he also used software to create animations of the faults and a three-dimensional image of Deception Pass Bridge.

“I learned a lot this year,” Cash said, adding that he learned how to use a variety of new software programs.

Paula Scharwat said that the boys enjoyed learning the computer programs so much that they’ve put their new skills to use for their own enjoyment and create fun videos in their free time.

“I really enjoyed going to the University of Washington and learning about all the earthquake stuff they do there with the seismograms. I thought that was really cool and how they have a network all over the world,” O’Brien said.

The club members will use what they learned for their next project, which Elphick said will be video and photos of Venus and Saturn through a telescope. That is, if other agencies don’t approach the club for assistance first. From the Northwest Language Academy to the South Whidbey History Society, the teens have been busy using their skills to benefit their community.

“So they see the quality  of work 4-H’ers are doing and get asked. But it’s great community service that all of them are learning to do to give back to the community,” Paula Scharwat said.

But the quality of work is the product of the club members putting tons of quality time into the project, with a few meetings per week during summer vacation, and Elphick’s leadership.

“Robert’s a good leader. He teaches us a lot, and he gave me a waffle cone today,” Dustin Scharwat said.

“Robert has a good sense of humor and he keeps the kids involved,” Paula Scharwat added.

As a mentor for the boys, Elphick shares his knowledge — and his sense of fun. As the boys rushed outside to film a scene teaching what to do if you find yourself on a beach during an earthquake, Elphick followed with the camera.

“So how dirty can we get these kids,” he joked as the boys willingly threw themselves in the sand to film the scene.

As they put the finishing touches on their video before showing it at the fair, Paula Scharwat said she’s excited to see teenagers creating such worthwhile, talented work.

“It’s amazing the quality of work that can be done by teenagers,” she said.

After viewing the club’s video at the fair, visit them at their booth to see the other projects they’re working on.


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