Researchers seek to enhance disaster-relief operations

1 min read

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University are investigating a range of simple engineering solutions that could be used to improve disaster-relief operations.

The project involves adapting existing technologies for disaster environments, as well as devising entirely new products and co-ordinating their overall delivery.

Project leaders Dr Abdul Hoque and Dr David Asquith from the Department of Engineering and Mathematics said the idea was borne out of shortcomings noted in disaster-response efforts in recent years.

‘International organisations and NGOs [non-government organisations] are able to offer some relief but there is always requirement for thoughtful, well-engineered solutions that address the needs of the people affected,’ said Hoque.

The research team comprises groups of graduate students who will identify niches and specific problem areas, then attempt to come up with solutions based on the obvious constraints of disaster environments.  

‘We’ve identified things such as lifting bags for damaged buildings that fire services often use, but then trying to get them to work without needing any power so you don’t need to fly in generators and diesel,’ Asquith told The Engineer.

Noting the increase of flooding incidents worldwide, one group aimed to come up with a solution for making a life jacket in 15 minutes with scrap material.

’They’ve done all the logical engineering science of what a life jacket needs to do and developed a prototype that uses a pair of tights, polyester and clingfilm, and it works — it’s really effective,’ said Asquith, adding that one of the students relayed the ‘instruction pack’ to a relative in Malaysia who was able to effectively test out the jacket in shallow waters.

Other projects at various stages of development include the Dyno-Roller, a combined water storage, transportation and energy generator; a trackable-solar powered cooker; and a lightweight inflatable shelter.

The team will now work with several groups, including Engineers Without Borders, the National Metals Technology Centre (NAMTEC), Selfix Technology and in-house VentureMatrix, to develop and potentially market its products.