Cargobikes – an essential tool in disaster relief

K4RGO - Disaster Relief Trial Portland

How many cities have included the use of cargobikes in their disaster relief planning? Hardly any, and yet when traditional means are severely hampered following a disaster, cargobikes can become a vital supply line.

In Portland this summer, the second edition of the Disaster Relief Trials will take place. BikePortland reports:

The Disaster Relief Trials, an event that showcases the capabilities of cargo bikes in disaster response, will be bigger and better and this year. After a successful inaugural event last year (which has already spawned similar events in Boulder and Seattle), organizers have loaded up the event with new sponsors, new events, a larger expo area, a new location, and much more.

The idea behind the DRT is to put cargo bikes and their riders through a series of tasks that simulate how the bikes would function in response to a major natural disaster (such as an earthquake) when fuel is rationed and roads and bridges are impassable by motor vehicles. Last year, 30 competitors participated while a HAM radio-powered command center tracked their movements via a home base at Velo Cult bicycles in Hollywood.

The big news this year is that the DRT will take place at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry. Organizers have planned an expanded Cascadia Cargo Bike Faire that will be part of an OMSI exhibit on sustainable transportation. Also new for 2013 is the addition of an e-bike class into the competition. In order make sure the electric-assisted bikes operate under the same conditions (no power available) as the non e-bikes, the bikes’ batteries must be charged using some means of alternative or renewable energy. A solar power company will be on-hand to provide on-site charging prior to the event.

Well done Portland. This is an initiative that needs to spread worldwide.

UPDATE: Here is another initiative in San Francisco: SF Disaster Bike.

Scenario: An 8.2 earthquake, trees and wires down, supplies needed across the City, cargo bikes mobilized! The Challenge: Ride from Bay to Ocean, load 50kg cargo, ride back.

K4RGO - Poster, SFDisasterBike

UPDATE 2: BikePortland reports of an actual exercise organised by the City of Tigard, not far from Portland:

The City of Tigard is planning a major, region-wide “mock emergency” exercise on Thursday and they want to include cargo bikes. Tara Harper, a consultant working on the event, was inspired by her involvement with the Disaster Relief Trials in Portland last summer and says cargo bikes would be uniquely suited to the task.

The exercise is based on a bioterrorism attack that creates a massive public health emergency. The entire population will be at risk unless they receive medicine that’s doled out at a “Point of Dispensing station”. Tigard will test the POD station concept for the first time on Thursday and officials from many other regional jurisdictions will be on hand to observe it. The medicine would be flown in from other areas and the challenge is to get the boxes of treatments and supplies to the POD stations as fast as possible. With traffic jams and other unforeseen circumstances, vehicles are needed that can operate regardless of traffic conditions.

“Everyone’s going to die if they don’t get medicine,” Harper shared today, “I have to have backup plans. Traffic might be snarled and I need a way to get around traffic and cargo bikes can easily ride around traffic jams and ride on bike paths.” The cargo biking volunteer would be dispatched to a helipad on the outskirts of town where they’d pick up boxes of medicine and deliver them to a POD station.


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