Tag Archives: floods

STEM for refugees and disaster relief

Just hours prior to the terrorist bombings in Paris (Friday, Nov. 13, 2015), Tash Reith-Banks published a Nov. 13, 2015 essay (one of a series) in the Guardian about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as those specialties apply to humanitarian aid with a special emphasis on Syrian refugee crisis.

This first essay focuses on how engineering and mathematics are essential when dealing with crises (from Reith-Banks’s Nov. 13, 2015 essay), Note: Links have been removed,

Engineering is a clear starting point: sanitation, shelter and supply lines are all essential in any crisis. As Martin McCann, CEO at RedR, which trains humanitarian NGO workers says: “There is the obvious work in providing water and sanitation and shelter. By shelter, we mean not only shelter or housing for disaster-affected people or refugees, but also structures to store both food and non-food items. Access is always critical, so once again engineers are needed to build roads or in some cases temporary landing strips.”

Emergency structures need to be light and fast to transport and erect, but tend not to be durable. One recent development comes from engineers Peter Brewin and Will Crawford of Concrete Canvas., The pair have developed a rapid-setting concrete-impregnated fabric that requires only air and water to harden into a water-proof, fire-resistant construction. This has been used to create rapidly deployable concrete shelters that can be carried in a bag and set up in an hour.

Here’s what one of the concrete shelters looks like,

A Concrete Canvas shelter. Once erected the structure takes 24 hours to harden, and then can be further insulated with earth or snow if necessary. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

A Concrete Canvas shelter. Once erected the structure takes 24 hours to harden, and then can be further insulated with earth or snow if necessary. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

There are many kinds of crises which can lead to a loss of shelter, access to water and food, and diminished safety and health as Reith-Banks also notes in a passage featuring mathematics (Note: A link has been removed),

Maths might seem a far cry from the sort of practical innovation described above, but of course it’s the root of great logistics. Alistair Clark from the University of the West of England is using advanced mathematical modelling to improve humanitarian supply chains to ensure aid is sent exactly where it is needed. Part of the Newton Mobility scheme, Clark’s project will partner with Brazilian disaster relief agencies and develop ways of modelling everything from landslides to torrential downpours in order to create sophisticated humanitarian supply chains that can rapidly adapt to a range of possible disaster scenarios and changing circumstances.

In a similar vein, Professor Amr Elnashai, founder and co-editor of the Journal of Earthquake Engineering, works in earthquake-hit areas to plan humanitarian relief for future earthquakes. He recently headed a large research and development effort funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the USA (FEMA), to develop a computer model of the impact of earthquakes on the central eight states in the USA. This included social impact, temporary housing allocation, disaster relief, medical and educational care, as well as engineering damage and its economic impact.

Reith-Banks also references nanotechnology (Note: A link has been removed),

… Up to 115 people die every hour in Africa from diseases linked to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation, particularly in the wake of conflicts and environmental disasters. Dr Askwar Hilonga recently won the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize, which is dedicated to African inventions with the potential to bring major social and economic benefits to the continent. Hilonga has invented a low cost, sand-based water filter. The filter combines nanotechnology with traditional sand-filtering methods to provide safe drinking water without expensive treatment facilities.  …

Dr. Hilonga who is based in Tanzania was featured here in a June 16, 2015 posting about the Royal Academy of Engineering Prize, his research, and his entrepreneurial efforts.

Reith-Banks’s* essay provides a valuable and unexpected perspective on the humanitarian crises which afflict this planet *and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series*.

*’Reith-Banks’s’ replaced ‘This’ and ‘and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series’ was added Nov. 17, 2015 at 1620 hours PST.

PrepareAthon and ShakeOut! Get ready for disaster


A Sept. 28, 2015 “prepareathon” notice came courtesy of the US Geological Survey (USGS). While this particular programme is US-centric (their ShakeOut mentioned later in this post is international in scope), sign-up or registration is not required and there is good general information about how to prepare and what to do in a variety of disaster-scenarios on the Hazards page of their website.  For those who can participate, here’s more,

Science Feature: Join America’s PrepareAthon!
Practice what to do in the event of a disaster or emergency.

Join millions of people participating in America’s PrepareAthon! on Sept. 30. This campaign encourages the nation to conduct drills, discussions and exercises to practice what to do before, during and after a disaster or emergency strikes.

The campaign will focus on preparing for floods, wildfires, hurricanes and power outages. Each year, the campaign holds two national days of action, with each day highlighting different hazards. This is the second national day of action this year.

Start with Science

USGS science is essential to understanding a wide range of hazards—including volcanoes, landslides, wildlife health and many others beyond this specific campaign—and provides a basis on which preparedness actions are developed.

USGS real-time monitoring of the nation’s rivers and streams provides officials with critical information for flood warnings, forecasts and evacuation warnings.

Before, during and after wildfire disasters, the USGS provides tools to identify wildfire risks and reduce subsequent hazards, such as landslides. USGS scientists also provide real-time maps and satellite imagery to firefighters.

For major storms or hurricanes, USGS science helps forecast the likelihood of coastal impacts. The USGS also measures storm surge and monitors water levels of inland rivers and streams.

Power outages can have many causes, including geomagnetic storms that result from the dynamic interaction of solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. The USGS operates a unique network of observatories that provide real-time data on magnetic storm conditions.

Coordination and Community

America’s PrepareAthon! is part of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness and led by The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The USGS is one of many supporting and contributing agencies. This campaign is coordinated with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.


The same Sept. 28, 2015 USGS notice includes some information about a “ShakeOut” (of particular interest to someone who lives in what’s known as the Ring of Fire or less colourfully as the circum-Pacific Belt earthquake/volcanic zone [Wikipedia entry]). This is an international (Japan, Italy, Canada, and others in addition to the US) event,

Get Ready to ShakeOut on October 15

Sign up for the next Great ShakeOut earthquake drill on October 15, 2015, and practice “drop, cover, and hold on,” the recommended safety action to take during an earthquake.

You can check out your state, province, or country, as I did for British Columbia (Canada). Here’s what I found,

On October 15* [2015], officially “ShakeOut BC Day,” millions of people worldwide will practice how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10:15 a.m. during Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills!

British Columbians can join by registering for the 2015 Great British Columbia ShakeOut.

The page hosts an embedded video and it’s available en français. It also offers these statistics: 610,000 have already signed up the 2015 event; last year (2014), there were over 740,000 participants.

Thailand’s NANOTEC develops nanotechnology-enabled solutions for addressing natural disasters

Thailand  has invested heavily in nanotechnology research and, as noted in my Dec. 6, 2011 posting, the country’s National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) has made disaster mitigation solutions a major focus. An undated (June 2012?) news release at the NANOTEC website describes a new water purification system (SOS mobile water purification system) that’s been developed,

Researchers at Thailand’s National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) have build the first locally made prototype solar powered water purification unit “SOS water” which combined the use of antimicrobial nanocoating to ceramic filters. Compared to conventional ceramic filter, an antimicrobial nanocoating ceramic filter will increase an extra security by killing or incapacitating bacteria left in the water and preventing the growth of mold and algae in the body of the filter. The project was implemented as a result of the need to provide drinking water to communities affected by the 2011 mega flooding in Thailand.

The researchers adapted the antimicrobial nanocoating know-how for water filtration and assembled into in the production of mobile solar-operating system (SOS) water purification. The raw water goes through 6 filtration steps one of which is the antimicrobial nanocoating ceramic filtration unit. The quality of drinking water meets the 2010 guide standard of drinking water by Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health, Thailand. The SOS water system is capable of producing 200 liters of drinking water per hour and easily integrated into a pick-up, light truck, a trailer or a flat hull boat. The researchers have collaborated with the Thai Red Cross Society to do field testing of a prototype SOS water the result of which was outstanding. NANOTEC has donated the prototype SOS water to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Executive Vice President of the Thai Red Cross Society on June 28, 2012 for community relief effort. Also attending the royal ceremony was Dr. Plodprasob Suraswadi, Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Dr. Pairash Thajchayapong, Chairman of NANOTEC Executive Board, and Dr. Thaweesak Koanantakool, President of National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

“The 2011 flood in Thailand was an eye opener for both the public and the government sector and we are glad to be in a position to utilize our research capabilities to help minimize the suffering of rural communities during the recent flooding” said Prof. Sirirurg Songsivilai, Executive Director of NANOTEC. “It is our hope that the SOS water will become a must-have item for national relief effort and rural community use”.

Dr. Chamorn Chawengkijwanich, researcher at NANOTEC and head of SOS water project informed that silver atoms are chemically bonded to the ceramic’s filter surface. The filtering function is long lasting and there no traces of silver particles are detected in the drinking water. SOS water is a stand alone unit which can be setup and operated using solar energy within 10-15 minutes.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has produced a 6.5 min. video highlighting the SOS water purification system and other disaster relief innovations such as a replacement for traditional sand bags (nSacks) and a new type of mosquito netting to protect against malaria (if your country has suffered massive floods as they did in Thailand in 2011, the standing water provides a new breeding ground for mosquitos and an increased likelihood of malaria).