|Could this be the new frontier for disaster response? |
Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Sandy (2011) and the very recent Oklahoma Tornado (2013) are the three most recent U.S. disasters most of us most vividly remember. With each disaster, they each had their own challenges after the storm had settled and residents began digging their way out. However, they all had a common thread on hampering timelier recovery efforts and the movement of relief. The problem faced is one of mobility. With the most recent tornado in Oklahoma, a major gas line that entered Oklahoma and split to span throughout the Midwest was damaged enough to stop 35 million cubic feet per day of gas supply due to the event. With Hurricane Katrina, gas shortages hampered relief efforts for weeks. Yet, an even bigger problem was that “power outages that keep gas stations from being able to pump the supplies on hand.” Also affected were roads. “The roads that lead outside of New Orleans will only be able to handle two-thirds of the city’s residents over a period of twelve hours. In other words, even if everyone were able to leave, the roads out of the city could not have handled them all.”
If disasters such as these happen from time to time, has nobody thought of alternative modes to combustible engines for relief? Why have we not learned from past mistakes that disaster preparedness means considering other means of mobility?
What I purpose is for individuals to revise their own household and neighborhood multimodal disaster relief plan policies to include using bicycles as a significant and viable means of transportation to move people and goods.
When gas is not available, when driverless cars are strewn about blocking other vehicles from moving through, when the buses and trains aren’t running and the transportation system has failed, another solution must be available.
Why bicycles? Because “bikes are one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.”
|Maneuvering around a downed tree by car may be impossible |
but not so with a bicycle. Source: David Chase
So what can you do? First, do you have a bicycle? Have it in good working order along with knowing essential maintenance such as how to change a flat tire and swap out brake pads. If you have bags that attach to the bike, you are a step ahead. If not, make sure to have at least a backpack.
Perhaps you already have a bike, or multiple bikes, but want to have more options in the case of a disaster. Consider acquiring an easy to attach bicycle trailer to extend your carrying capacity. Or, to go even bigger, cargo bicycles can carry loads in excess of 250lbs. Cargo bikes (or “freight bicycles”) are designed specifically for transporting heavy loads. These bicycles typically have “heavy carriers at front or rear, sometimes with a smaller front wheel to accommodate a large front carrier.” Another cargo option is the Longtail bicycle (or “Xtracycles”). This bicycle has a longer rear compared to what one is used to seeing on a normal bicycle. The added length is available to better facilitate extra weight or passengers.
|Prepared for the unexpected. Source: Bikeportland.org|
Last, stepping up the chain of command to the national level, consider writing your representatives in Congress to get them thinking about bicycles as disaster relief tools. Suggest that special funds be set aside for FEMA to distribute a certain number of shared bicycles along with temporary housing. Suggest altering the training and education policies to provide instruction on the benefits and basic overviews to ensure optimal use of the bicycles.
Is the bicycle the linchpin to survival during a disaster? Yes, it can be. Simple modes of transportation are often times more effective in certain instances. The bicycle could be that tool in an emergency situation. Knowing this, I suggest you consider your own family’s emergency preparedness policy, your neighborhoods plan and even the city you live in and ask the questions, “Do we consider alternative options for mobility? Do we consider the bicycle?” Asking these easy questions now may be part of your success during an emergency situation in the future.
 UPDATE 2-Southern Star gas line in force majeure after Oklahoma tornado
 Hurricane Sandy Gas Shortage: Dry Pumps Could Last For Days
 Background on Hurricane Katrina
 The Power of Bicycles in Disaster Recovery
 Renne, J. L., Sanchez, T. W., & Litman, T. (2008). National study on carless and special needs evacuation planning: a literature review.
 Freight Bicycle; Wikipedia