the last week before the NYC FRC regional postponement

I’m on the planning committee and co-volunteer coordinator for the NYC FRC regional. Like many members of the FIRST community, we were closely monitoring the situation. I mainly got my information from:

  • The NY Robotics Slack channel
  • A NYC planning committee mailing list.
  • Chief Delphi

In the Slack channel, one of the mentors on another team thanked me for my transparency. Now that I have time again :(, writing up a little more about the experience. This is a subset of what happened over the past week. I only shared things I feel comfortable nobody would have a problem with (without my having to ask for oks)

The timeline

Note: This is a very tri-state area view of the world. I’m well aware other events were cancelled.

  • March 6th – Central NY cancelled, a MAR event got cancelled during load in.
  • March 7th – Tech Valley cancelled
  • March 8th – Hofstra University (home of both Long Island regionals) announced first case
  • March 9th – Both Long Island regionals cancelled
  • March 11th – Hudson Valley suspended
  • March 12th – Entire season suspended – from FIRST HQ

The event

There was a lot of discussion about what to do – can we accommodate more teams, what if teams cancel, etc. While I heard about these a bit, they aren’t things I was responsible for.

Volunteer Coordinator

As volunteer coordinator, I had to be prepared in case we had the event with any number of volunteers dropping out at any time. I also wanted to be ready with an email to go out to the volunteers in case the event was cancelled. Highlights of this included:

  • Asked a CSA to cross train as a ref so we had an extra person who passed the test.
  • After the Long Island event was cancelled, emailed all their robot inspectors to see if anyone wanted to come to NYC instead. (I got two more robot inspectors from this)
  • With my co-volunteer coordinator, create a contingency/resiliency plan for every single key volunteer role. (It was helpful knowing where our areas of risk lie for next time regardless).
  • Came up with a plan for the expected smaller number of corporate volunteers and replacing non-key volunteers. [spoiler: part of it involved asking people in the stands to volunteer (or be drafted). If any team had more than 7 students in the stands, they were going to be helping!]
  • Wrote an email to our volunteers to send out if/when the regional got cancelled/suspended. FIRST HQ then came up with language so I wound up using mostly that and adding one sentence.

Safety glasses

The last number of years, I’ve been the supervisor of safety glasses and crowd control. This year, I was going to be one of the safety managers. So I was watching the safety glass situation as well. (My co-volunteer coordinator does most of the onsite/day of VC work). The problem being that we aren’t supposed to touch our faces so putting on safety glasses someone else wore (even after sanitizing) isn’t the safest of ideas. Kinda problematic for the safety glass station to cause a safety issue.

Options

  • No safety glasses lending at all. Teams bring their own or don’t come in the pits.
  • Give away free safety glasses. [I was worried if we went this route, we’d run out quickly because of the “free safety glasses” perception.
  • Ask Google to donate thousands of their promotional safety glasses.
  • Charge $1-$2 to buy safety glasses. Not a revenue based activity, but enough that people won’t ask unless they actually need them.

Communications

Early on, I wrote some text to send to any volunteers who asked about the event. My co-vc reviewed. I wanted to make sure it was a nice reply and didn’t accidentally make a statement on behalf of FIRST. I went with:

Good question. As of right now, we are planning on having the NYC FRC regional. As we see in the news, things are changing rapidly and we are actively monitoring the situation along with FIRST. As in past years, we will send all volunteers a reminder email 1-2 weeks before the event.

I was thinking that if I emailed this to anyone, it would get posted on Chief Delphi where everyone and their 8 friends would analyze it. The first person who asked me this did not post it. The second person who asked me actually asked on Chief Delphi. I replied with this text their so we cut out the middle man!

I was also active in communicating with any volunteers with concerns. Finally, I was active on the NY Robotics Slack. Back to that transparency thing, I think the key things I posted were:

  • It was the venues not the planning committees that were ending events. (Someone posted that they were expecting to hear something after the planning committees met)
  • We had a contingency plan for volunteers, especially if the corporate volunteers couldn’t attend.
  • That there are parties outside of FIRST that could have an effect. (The city banning large gatherings or the NYC school system banning clubs/field trips)

And finally, a note of appreciation for planning committees around the world

To those running FIRST robotics competitions, conferences or any large event, a big thank you. It’s really hard to make decisions:

  1. If you cancel early and didn’t need to -> people unhappy
  2. If you cancel the last minute/during -> people unhappy
  3. If you have the event and someone gets sick -> people really unhappy.
  4. If you have it and it isn’t smooth -> people unhappy.
  5. If you have it and it works out -> people happy.

There’s a lot of ways to fail here. And the only path to success if one that you don’t have a lot of control over!

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