Design for Disaster Relief


For my Senior project, I am researching the topic of disaster relief. I have personal invested interest in this topic as well, as I a have a lot of family from Slidell, LA. With so much devastation visible, it is hard to imagine that any product could have been much help.

My question/topic is where is design needed or lacking most in these situations? …or is it needed/lacking at all?

Here is a link to idsa award winning emergency products…

Jump bags used by EMTs are usually non-specialty, off-the-shelf backpacks stuffed with medical supplies. Generally little to no design. Just an idea.

I will immediately think of emergency packs. Not just a box, but perhaps something that you can just grab or wear and run.

Disasters can be:
Snow/Ice storm

Items I will include:

Water ( or purifying devices)
Food ( ration )
Flash lights
Medical supply
Signal Transmitter.
Something to keep warm.

I think if I were you, I will investigate the different low tech ways one can transmit a signal. The situations could be:

Lost in the sea
Lost in the woods
Buried in wrecks, buildings

Search methods can be:
Wave ( Sonar and so on )
Scent ( dogs )
Visual ( smoke or flare )
Audio ( siren, noise )
Thermal signal ( infra red or something)

Maybe you can do some research on how certain individuals managed to survive for a long period of time. Each has their unique solutions.

Here are some stories I can remember:
Lost in the sea, ate and drank coconuts to survive. Fish as well.

Buried under buildings. The rescuer constantly watered the wrecks to supply survivors under the buildings with water and it helped.
One survived on rotten apples found in the fridge.

Also research on how people really react in times of disasters, whether the current emergency pack designs really work/suitable in those times.

Lost in the sea:
Recently 2 divers were catching some fish off the coast, got swept away from the boat by under current. They survived 48 hrs before being picked up. They ate the fish they caught and drank the blood. They ate seaweed too.

In the new report(MSNBC) on today’s emergency landing in LA, a retire pilot said that injuries usually take place after the plane has safely landed, when people rush to jump off the slide instead of during the accident itself.

That is some great insight.

It is interesting to look at the situation or place, more than the disaster itself. Looking at survivor stories is a great example of how people adapt wittingly and courageously to the worst of these situations. Those stories you mentioned provide some great leads.

In looking at communication, we were focusing on satellite service. It is always available, however it is expensive, requires a fair amount of electicity and may not work under a pile of rubble, avalanche etc. There are some interesting examples of temporary and low cost wireless internet services getting setup utilizing solar energy.

Packs with critical supplies would be a life saver for victims of these disasters. The problem often times though, is that there are always those people ‘unprepared’. This could be out of poverty, lack of understanding or just stubbornness. One of the challenges we are looking at is to help that person trapped in the middle of this unavoidable and unexpected disaster with no way out and no resources immediately available to them. The challenge also, is to get emergency supplies or ‘packs’ to those unreachable, no matter their situation.

Then you got to wonder if everyone is so technological oriented that they can over come the complicated user interface with such advanced device, as well as the set up of solar panels and satellite link. Come on, it’s tough enough for people to get their dish work for TVs. You cannot assume that everyone is gadget wizard. What about the elderlys and kids? what about the less developed countries? Of course, like you mentioned, it has to be affordable too.

Also, you also have to worry about the durability of those equipment. Considering it’s a disaster relief, it must be military grade and definitely water and shock proof. So my take will be, as simple and low-tech as possible. In a world where you have no survival resource, whatever you do has to be able to be sustained by what’s left.

I think that you are trying to sell this product to every person on the face of the planet. That doesn’t necesarily have to happen to be of at least some use. Hefetz
New York
The Big Idea The Aqualoop is an ergo-nomic water container with a special valve that reduces the risk of contamination by attaching only to safe water sources regulated by organizations such as UNICEF and the Red Cross.

Emilian Dan Cartis
Water-Purifying Tent
Brooklyn, New York
The Big Idea To aid survival in dire conditions, the W-solo tent distills and cleans rainwater as it condenses on the tent’s surface, providing its users with up to 3.5 gallons of drinkable water per day.

I tend to disagree with this. Water seems important. Kidding aside, there is no shortage of products/supplies or donations. The problem is they can’t get these things to people.

When a disaster strikes, it affects everyone, whether you are rich, poor, educated or not. When you start to design different level of disaster relief products, you will be designing gadgets instead of what’s needed.

It’s a great question. Seems to me that you also have a rare opportunity to see how people who suddenly have to imporvise actually find ways to meet their newly discovered needs.

The interesting thing I get curious about as a designer is the point of view to start with, rather than the thing to make at the end. “Disaster relief” is a concept that seems to come from people or organizations who arrive to help- everything from first reponders to FEMA putting up trailer cities. Another way to take it could be from the point of view of the refugess (or evacuees) themselves- what does it mean to be a refugee? This could provide a point of view that is more personal and less a systems approach (which is what disaster relief may actually be- and can make for really boring senior projects.)

we tried to do something this for a class project about two years ago, only restriction was we couldn’t do shelter.

Not one of the emergency services even bothered to respond to a student request for information much less offer any information about what kinds of issues they have with relief equipment during a situation like the recent hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes, etc.

Unfortunately, we were forced to simply speculate about what we thought the main issues were. The previous poster hit the nail on the head- who are we really trying to help in the end? Ultimately, the victims…

Still think this is worth doing, even for free, trying to find some time. Might want to contact architecture for humanity if you want real info, nice guy who would love to put you to work on something that means something.

Good luck!

I was down at the University Of Houston this spring and their project was to make a disaster relief product for the Tsunami in SE Asia…

I won’t go into all the details, but they did alot of very cool things with oragami like paper products… for drinking water, for eating, etc… I imagine that it was all really inexpensive, easy to transport, and fit an important need ( maybe disease prevention? )

How can I do a good designer?

Hmm. Wear something black and shiny?

I am just returning to this posting and am pleased with the feedback. I definately agree with the posting, that emphasizes that the victim is the most important factor to forcus on. Utilizing inexpensive oragami type designs for aid sounds like a cool approach.

When deciding who to focus on, the victims or the rescuers, an underlying point is presented. What is most important, evacuation or aid. I guess this depends on the situation. A person stranded on the roof of their car as a rushing flood threatens their life, would prefer a helicopter over an oragami paper cup. On the other hand, the people who lost everything in an earthquake wouldn’t have much need for a helicopter rescue. They have no place to go. They just need a place to rest and some way of cooking and serving a hot meal.

p.s. Wades… are you sure you don’t want to “be” a good designer?