Five Disaster Technologies that Offer Solutions to Rising Risks


SEATTLE, Washington — According to the 2014 Human Development Report from the U.N., the frequency of natural disasters has increased globally more than 50-fold since 1900. Unfortunately, the lack of sophisticated technologies in poorer communities makes these areas among the worst-affected. Specifically, the World Bank estimates developing nations are afflicted by 25 percent of disasters, but suffer nearly 90 percent of disaster-related casualties.

Ongoing innovation from forward-thinking businesses and government programs offers hope for the communities in future disaster zones. Here are five life-saving disaster technologies designed to provide relief during catastrophe:

  1. Think Hazard
    Think Hazard is a free open-source threat analysis website sponsored by the World Bank detailing the risk and severity of eight possible types of natural disasters. Information is broken down on a regional basis across the entire world. Importantly, the tool also offers basic recommendations for how to strengthen local infrastructure to withstand potential disasters particular to each location before they occur.
  2. Concrete Canvas
    This material is a concrete-fabric hybrid that inflates with the addition of water and air, and can be used to construct temporary shelter during a disaster. After approximately one hour, the material is fireproof, water-resistant and durable, having been tested to last up to ten years. Concrete Canvas was originally engineered for ditches to control erosion but has grown over the previous decade, now supplying more than 40 countries with shelter capabilities.
  3. Duckweed Survival House
    For disaster areas near the water, an alternative design is this floating shelter. These enclosures also inflate quickly and are designed to remain upright during harsh waves. Further, Duckweed houses are equipped with filtration systems to provide a fresh water source throughout the duration of the event. They are a newer design, and are quickly gaining recognition as a sturdy and visible means of rescue shelter.
  4. Public Lab Spectrometry Kits
    Disaster technologies now include spectrometers, which measure the chemical makeup of tested materials. To assist with public health precautions, Public Lab devised a $10 foldable paper spectrometer used to identify contaminants in drinking water. The design attaches to other devices such as a camera phone to analyze the composition of potentially unsafe water in endangered communities.
  5. Disaster Relief Toilets
    Inspired by the 2010 Chilean earthquake in which many impoverished communities lacked the ability to contain personal waste, industrial designer Rahim Bhimani constructed an inexpensive compact toilet. Offering privacy and easy shipment, his invention now keeps communities clean following other disasters around the world. The design can be assembled with a small coin and is also praised because waste is disposed of in biodegradable bags.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that some quality disaster technologies are already in place, and focusing on these solutions can be an alternative method of alleviation. Many natural disasters are somewhat predictable and are forecast with satellite, radar and seismic technology. It is important to recognize the need for multifaceted partnerships including each of these approaches.

For example, satellite ocean imagery can assist developing nations that only possess equipment on land. Automated messages to existing telephone customers within an impact radius can also alert residents instantly, a model used in Australia since 2009.

Disaster preparedness is a process that remains critical before, during and after catastrophic events. Each of the aforementioned disaster technologies offers hope for preventing against the rising frequency of natural disasters, especially in developing countries.

Zack Machuga

Photo: Flickr


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