Solar power to the rescue: life, water after disasters


We’ve been tracking this technology for some time now and it provides a powerful resource in a disaster zone that has no critical resources:  clean water, electricity, communications as well as serving other purposes.  Since it is designed to leverage mass transportation systems (shipping containers, rail, road and possibly helicopter) the solution can be rapidly deployed to the most remote and inaccessible areas:  Solar power to the rescue: life, water after disasters | SmartPlanet.

How Is Disaster Aid Being Retooled to Meet Catastrophes That Strike Cities?: Scientific American


Disaster response has historically focused on using strategies developed for rural regions to aid people impacted by disaster.  With the increase of natural and man made disasters effecting urban areas (Fukushima, Hurricane Katrina…) organizations are looking to adapt and develop best solutions to the urban environment.  Using sustainable strategies can also make a significant contribution in making a built environment more resilient.  Sustainable solutions already look to mitigate impact as well as designing to last.  With many major cities (New York City, San Francisco…) already working to lead in sustainable solutions, disaster organizations should look to take advantage of both efforts to optimize and hasten preparation:   How Is Disaster Aid Being Retooled to Meet Catastrophes That Strike Cities?: Scientific American.

Camping Stove for Survival


This stove is a neat idea.  It is interesting how often decent camping tools can have multiple uses (e.g. camping, survival, travel…).  The stove is both efficient, light weight and low impact.  Clean water can be hard to get in a camping environment, disaster zone or travel location with poor water infrastructure.  This clever idea uses “old” tech or low tech by leveraging an idea that has been around for a few centuries.  One can transport the stove, use fuel from the surroundings (twigs, paper or what ever is on hand) and boil water.  Boiled water can be the key to thirst, food or sterilization in first aid situation.  It is easily packable and simple to use.  Check it out here

Physical Recovery: Yoga in Crisis Zones

This is an interesting approach to post crisis tension resolution in torn areas.  It is interesting to me as I have long practiced yoga for several reasons but the key one was to help recover from a serious back injury.  An old school orthopedist surprised me when he prescribed physical therapy for me after I sought his help in relief from a reoccurring back problem that would have me laying flat for 2 or 3 days if I “put my back out” .  The physical therapy exercises I recognized as yoga positions because they were called things like child’s pose…  It wasn’t a stretch to ask the physical therapist if i should take up yoga and she said it couldn’t hurt, just be sure to use a gentle strengthening practice that doesn’t strain you.  I found a school and have been doing it ever since.  Result: sustained recovery, no back problems, much better health, improved peace of mind, better diet and the list goes on.

What does yoga have to do with disaster relief?  One of the key elements for surviving a disaster is to take actions to care for your health as physical health supports mental health.  In a survival situation, instructors often stress the importance of maintaining an exercise routine to keep you strong, clear headed, helps your moral and facilitates enduring the stress.

If you’ve ever seen a refugee camp, conditions can ensure a downward drag on both mental and physical health.  Physical exercise is critical to maintaining a positive outlook that I can and will get through this.  Exercising in a group adds a dimension that supports the individual positively when the individual psyche is struggling with overcoming a sinking moral.  If I have to get up and go running with a group first thing in the morning the thought of the adjustment is that it is too much of a shock and I keep sleeping.  If I see the prospect of getting up and going to a gentle yoga class where I know I’ll slowly wake up, gently bring the body to alertness and feel energized afterward it is much easier and attractive.  In addition, with a gentle beginner practice, most people of any physical condition can participate and benefit from it.

Yoga has the added advantage of being able to do with no tools (you don’t even need a mat) and can be done in very limited space.  There is an additional critical benefit in a disaster zone: It helps bring people together instead of creating an environment of isolated physical routines.  The group experience can also facilitate unifying and establishing a positive synergy toward group recovery that can be carried on outside of the exercise regiment and into the recovering community.

See article here

Quick Tips: Disaster Strikes, I have no plan, what do I do?

You’ve experienced a disaster and are NOT prepared.  It happens to the best of us so what are your options to get help, relief and initiate recovery as an individual or an organization (business, government agency…)?


  • Safety first: determine personal and personnel safety status.  Make sure you, you’re family or co-works are unharmed or no longer in the danger zone.  If you or others are harmed, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Evacuate: if you’re still in the danger zone, evacuate to a safe point or distance from zone.  Seek professional emergency response assistance/guidance: police, fire, hospital, military.  If you are trapped in a structure or stranded find a means to signal aid (create loud noise, controlled fire, create a sign).  Conserve your energy.
  • First aid: locate any first aid options or kits.
  • Remember: shelter, water, fire and food.  This priority list can help you remember what to seek if in harsh climate conditions (e.g. blizzard, hurricane…).


  • Information Tracking: find pen and note paper (pad) to keep a tracking log of any information as it comes in: names of people you encounter and co-workers, contact information, news, emergency instructions.  A non-electric driven method for taking notes means no power or mechanical issues. Avoid trusting information to memory.
  • Contact List: assess who you need to contact, determine how you can contact them and relay a message.  Attempt to write down any numbers you can remember (e.g. 911, parents number, office reception, police/fire, friends, anyone) these may be necessary to get an emergency aid call out.  In major events, family, friends and employers should be contacted so they know you’re safe and don’t send unnecessary relief efforts.

Reach out to emergency contacts as needed and let them know:

  1. your name
  2. crisis situation
  3. your safety status
  4. your location
  5. how you can be reached
  6. any aid you need
  7. repeat above information for clarity
  • Voice communications options: try using cell phones, fixed land lines with old non-power dependent phones, CB radio, boat radio and Ham (amateur) Radios.
  • Data messaging: text messaging runs on a different infrastructure than cell phone e-mail.  If one is out try the other.
  • Signaling: create signs or signals (directed light, smoke, sound) that can clearly be seen or heard from a distance will draw attention.

Recovery Tasks

  • list and prioritize critical tasks that need to be performed (also known as essential function) and determine what core responsibilities you absolutely must address first.   Pick one at time and avoid overwhelm.  The post disaster dynamic is very different from day to day.  Be adaptable, resourceful, delegate and work together, bottlenecks can create critical breakdowns.

Important: work to avoid panic.  Panic will make any situation much more dangerous and directly limit your odds of survival.

Tips to avoid panic: use the buddy system, find someone whose judgment you trust and align with them.  Avoid large crowds that can panic and create a mob dynamic.  Tell others what you’re thinking/feeling for help in getting thoughts into perspective, pray (there are few atheists in fox holes), drink water, take deep breaths, and make sure you remember to eat and rest regularly.

Shipping Containers as Emergency Shelter and Affordable Housing?

Courtesy of Inhabitat

More and more articles are showcasing the ingenuity of designers and architects who convert shipping containers to home and office structures.  In a former post (see here) I wrote about the practical application for using converted shipping containers to provide emergency shelter to those displaced by a disaster.

A company by the name of Meka has gone a step further by creating aesthetically pleasing and practical home designs that are currently available to the public as an affordable, eco-friendly housing alternative (see here).   The design recycles shipping containers, facilitates an efficient modular community design, and conserves space.  At last, a place in NYC I can afford!

In another example, Allied Container Systems has constructed an entire city of dwellings converted from shipping containers (see here) which illustrates the potential for community structure and planning possibilities.

A key potential I see and encourage discussion on below is: Can we use these structures combined with urban planning to provide a series of environmentally efficient prefabricated community designs that can be selected from and rapidly constructed in a disaster zone or to aid those in need?  Could these designs be used to build emergency shelters or affordable housing communities to aid those recovering from the many kinds of crisis conditions (natural, economic blight, war refugee…)?

Emergency shelter communities and tent cities share many common threads with public low income housing communities by reinforcing the crisis state and failing to provide a safe environment for people to rebuild and move on from.  The communities fail to provide an environment within which people with lost, low or no resources can realistically and with dignity recover and return to self-sufficiency.  Tent cities and low income housing communities (while being driven by good intentions) often become a prison for those impacted with no way out.

If we want to build structures and infrastructure where people can recover from hardship (natural or man-made disasters) we need to design with the end in mind:  create an environment that will serve as a building block for a person to successfully rebuild themselves and return to a self supporting lifestyle.  Displaced families need a safe community that facilitates building up, working together within the community, moving out of the community and giving back to these communities that helped them out.

These environments need to provide safe shelter, community security, fresh water, effective waste disposal, nutritional food access, good health clinics, education capabilities for children and simple infrastructure (power, communications and transportation) to enable a person to recover and return to the mainstream.

By creating modular community and shelter designs that can be rapidly deployed, we may be able to significantly reduce the human suffering of the ad hoc tent cities that are so often created, provide a genuine recovery path for a person or family affected by disaster and with a more cost effective sustainable methodology.  Can we do it?  I believe it is possible.


During 9/11, as the buildings came down particles, dust and debris was release in such quantities that it looked like a blizzard.  Only long after the event did we start to see the effects of breathing the air on our emergency response personnel and those within the vicinity.

The following article presents an air breathing system that could provide tremendous safety improvements for those exposed to these types of health hazards during a disaster.  In a disaster kit many people keep simple particle masks, these masks have very limited benefits but they are better than nothing.  When we have our emergency response personnel ill equipped for safely entering crisis zones we handicap their effectiveness right out of the gate.

With all new ideas we want to make sure they are rigorously tested before putting into the field.  This idea is worth looking into for planning an emergency response kit.

See article here

Event Tracking: What Lies Beneath

The fallout coverage from the BP spill has largely dropped off the radar.  Much of what has been reported about the oil is that it has magically disappeared.  It is hard to believe this is not simply wishful thinking on the part of those responsible for the spill.  I too would love to believe an oil spill is self cleaning but experience has shown that an impact of this size simply is not free from collateral damage.

In cases of this enormity (see satellite photo above) it takes a great deal of time for the effects to be realized.  How long did it take for the tobacco industry to accept the adverse affects of their product?  Sadly the the BP oil spill is still unfolding and needs continual tracking.  This isn’t about liability, its about lives.

The following article from the George Washington’s blog is worth reviewing and it provides an unsettling list of reports continuing to surface on the BP oil.  These reports are indicating that it isn’t going away, toxicity is higher than expected and it can’t be swept under the ocean floor.

What is worse is that the type of toxicity released into the water, seafood supply, and other affected lives could continue to have significant direct effects on the health and welfare of the communities for a long time as the chemicals work through the ecosystem.

To truly address a disaster so the impact is continuing to be addressed and reduced over time all the facts need to be proactively (offered before being asked), directly and transparently addressed with undeniable candor and no spin.  When this process is continuously done, reasonable people recognize the problem is being addressed responsibility and trust is built.  Conspiracy theories are moved to the fringe and easily dismissed because it is clear all facts are being allowed to surface and nothing is hidden from public view.  A well known case study which exemplifies this process took place in the 1980′s when the makers of Tylenol discovered that some of their product had been poisoned and without hesitation proactively announced the discovery to the press, warned the public, recalled the product and transparently addressed the facts.

Sadly, when an event is this big (and on the tails of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, 2 Wars…) it is human nature to become overwhelmed, rationalize the consequences and learn to live with it by wishing it would magically disappear.  There is no doubt this is overwhelming and wearing on our national morale but we can’t afford to tune this out until all the facts are readily available and are clearly being addressed.

There is a good chance that there will be serious further impacts from the spill that time will reveal and may affect all of us.

See article here