The American Pacific Northwest sits on the Cascadia fault line, which runs north to south from Vancouver Island, Canada, past the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, before reaching northern California. The last major earthquake in the area was in 1700, but due to the nature of the fault, the next one could be very strong, with the potential to cause catastrophic levels of destruction in the area.
But what does this have to do with cycle logistics? In response to the threat of a future major earthquake, members of Portland’s cycling community have held a series of events dubbed the Disaster Relief Trials (DRT), to test just how prepared they are.
In a disaster it is critical that food, water and medical supplies can quickly reach the places they are needed most. Conventional supply methods are often unable to operate when roads are damaged or fuel is scarce. The group has therefore identified the bicycle, and in particular the cargo bike, as central to their response.
The DRT is an exercise that trains a diverse group of volunteers from across the community to be able to respond to disasters using their cargo bikes. The format of the DRT turns this rather serious exercise into something enjoyable; a race. This injects a realistic sense of urgency to proceedings, making it a community event that is, fun builds skills and provokes thoughts.
Participants are challenged to carry heavy loads of water and supplies across rough terrain. Consignments of delicate medical supplies are simulated with eggs, which must make it to the end of the course intact. The courses are carefully picked to simulate a possibly hostile landscape, devoid of useful infrastructure. The competition format also encourages the collaboration that would be necessary in real life: competitors work together to help haul each other’s loaded bikes over obstacles such as walls and ditches.
The format proved so popular and effective in Portland that Seattle and San Francisco have followed suit, holding their own DRTs. The idea is spreading too; the town of Bend, Oregon, held it’s own DRT in June 2017 and a Winter version of the DRT was held at the 2016 Winter Cycling Congress in Minneapolis. For a more detailed account of the DRT, watch the video or click on the links below for further reading.
Portland DRT from Russ Roca on Vimeo.
Website (Seattle): https://seattledrt.org / Seattle DRT Twitter
DRT San Francisco: “Xtracycle presents Disaster Relief Trials San Francisco”
Bicycle Times: “Courting Disaster”
Bike Portland: ” ‘Disaster Relief Trials’ demonstrate biking’s potential after The Big One”
cargocycling.org: “Cargo Race: Disaster Relief Trials”
Winter Cycling Congress: “Join the Winter Disaster Relief Trial at #WCC16”
FEMA: “Disaster Relief Trials Pedal toward Community Resilience”
CITYLAB: “The Power of Bicycles in Disaster Relief”