Disaster Response Bikes

Bike Portland recently had an interesting article on cargo bikes for disaster response. The notion of using cargo bikes – and bikes in general – for disaster response is a great example of a bike service. I did a series of posts a while back on different Emergency & Patrol Services by Bike, which included bike services such as EMS, Police, Search & Rescue, Fire, Military, and more, but I never thought about the use of bicycles specifically for disaster situations. So I was definitely excited about the article on Bike Portland, and I thought I’d summarize the main uses for bikes in disaster situations that they mention in their article and discuss some other potential uses. It’s always exciting to hear of new ways to use bikes! Indeed, even Homeland Security News is excited about disaster response bikes! Header image credit: Wheelsology.

How to Utilize Bikes in a Disaster

Specifically, the City of Portland is concerned with mitigating the impacts of earthquakes and tsunamis with bicycles, but bikes might be utilized in many types of disaster situations. The Bike Portland article discusses two major ways in which bikes might be utilized in a disaster situation. The first use would be to deploy cargo bikes and other methods for carrying things by bike, such as bike cargo trailers, to help move food, fuel, people, and other cargo around a city where the major transportation infrastructure had been compromised or were too crowded or where fuel prices were prohibitive to using motorized transportation. Cargo bikes and bike cargo trailer teams might be operated directly by city or local officials, as well as by Neighborhood Emergency Teams, which would help to service individual parts of the city. One major benefit of organized, trained groups using bikes in emergency situations is that bikes are much easier to navigate through a variety of situations from crowds to damaged infrastructure and more. This is definitely the case in the use of EMS bikes and Police bikes, as we have shown in Emergency & Patrol Bike series. However, depending on the level and type of damage from a particular disaster event, the utility of bicycles can certainly be limited, as well.

Photo Credit: Ethan Jewett via Bike Portland

The second major use of bicycles in an emergency situation discussed in the article is to help maintain the mobility of the people impacted by the event. Oftentimes, disasters lead to compromised transportation infrastructure, as well as high fuel prices, and bicycles can help to mitigate the impacts of both. By allowing people in an area impacted by a disaster to remain mobile, bikes can definitely help to ease the crisis associated with a disaster situation. Bicycles can also help people when rebuilding after a disaster, by allowing more efficient flows of resources and information throughout a place.

Another potential use of a bicycle in an emergency situation could be to actually evacuate or flee from an emergency. There were a handful of stories from the Japanese tsunami about bicycles being used to flee the tsunami, such as this example where an 83-year-old woman escaped the tsunami on her bike. The Urban Country has an interesting post about the huge number of bike sales that occurred in Japan after the earthquake, as people stranded by the disaster found bicycles to be the most efficient way to evacuate or get to their loved ones. Cyclelicio.us also provides examples of emergency responders arriving by bike, and Biking Bis has a great post on the use of bicycles for the Japanese and Indonesian tsunamis. Lastly, Copenhagenize provides some amazing images of bicycle use post-Japan tsunami, and offers up a very eloquent discussion of the use bicycles after natural, as well as human-caused disasters (ie. war, dictatorship, etc.): Bicycle Freedom in Japan and Beyond.

Photo Credit: The City Fix via Associated Press

There is certainly no doubting the tragedy and suffering that occurred in some of the examples I’ve discussed here, but it is our goal here at Utility Cycling to illustrate the many ways in which bicycles can be used from the happy-go-luck bike wedding to the very serious disaster response potential of bicycles. So we hope this post can be informative and useful should the need ever arise. And of course, it just goes to show, never underestimate the power of the bike!

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