Rental gear kit available for scientists responding to natural disasters

Rental gear kit available for scientists responding to natural disasters (PHOTO: KOMO News)

For a scientist that studies the effects of natural disasters, it’s a dream come true.

The University of Washington is now home to, the first-of-its-kind in the world, equipment rental center geared toward scientists being deployed to natural disasters. It could lead to better understanding of the effects an earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, tornado or any other natural disasters have on all of us.

It’s called “Rapid,” but it’s not an acronym that stands for anything except its intent, to rapidly deployment scientific measuring equipment to the scene of a natural disaster. The true name is the Natural Hazards Reconnaissance Experimental Facility.

It’s the brain child of the National Science Foundation after scientists realized there was a gap between when a natural disaster occurs and when scientists can get their high tech data collection equipment to the area.

“There is a wealth of data that is lost because we can't get out into the field in quick enough manner to collect the data,” says UW Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Jeff Berman who is also the Director of Operations for Rapid. “The bulldozers come out, people’s memories fade and that data is lost for time.”

The solution was to establish a library of tools that scientists can summon to a disaster area, including the equipment operators, if necessary, at a moment’s notice. That library is now inside Moore Hall on the UW campus.

In Rapid’s tool box are items any researcher or scientist studying the earth sciences would love to have in the laboratory. There’s some 300 pieces of equipment that are all rentable for a cost that won’t break the bank.

A Z-Boat 1800 is in the kit that can map underwater topography with sonar. The $80,000 boat rents for just $300 a day.

There’s also a M600 DJI drone that can be equipped an aerial scanning device known as LIDAR with 3D imaging software. That $200,000 package of equipment rents for just $400 a day.

There is brain mapping equipment, seismometers, smaller drones with high resolution cameras, surveying equipment, 360 degree mapping cameras and almost everything an earth sciences researcher would want to have in the field to study the effects of a natural disaster on infrastructure and the social reaction a disaster can have on a community.

“There’s about $1.3 million worth of equipment, that with our educational discounts we were able to purchase for about $1 million,” says Site Operations Manager Jake Dafni, Rapid’s lone full-time employee for now.

UW competed for the NSF grant and won, receiving nearly $5 million to fund Rapid for five years.

“Anybody can use it, theoretically we can work with anybody, anytime, but our main focus is natural hazard,” says Dafni. Scientists working natural disasters have first priority with the equipment.

Dafni says each user not at a disaster scene must agree to give up the gear if a natural disaster does occur.

Equipment from Rapid was used to study the effects of Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael and after an earthquake in Chitose, Japan.

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