Localizing disaster response through the rapid fabrication
and customization of relief items
In October 2014, the Red Cross and Red Crescent partnered with a financial institution and dozens of college students in the U.S. to consider how to incorporate rapid digital fabrication into disaster response operations. Since then, the Red Cross has embarked on a research study with partners to explore the potential of digital fabrication to make our response cheaper, faster and better in service of those affected and out of respect to our donors. The research will inform a Red Cross strategy on digital fabrication for strengthening community resilience, including recommendations on partnering with existing fabrication labs, utilizing virtual volunteers to crowdsource designs for relief items and deploying mobile labs to support response efforts.
Below is more detail on priorities driven by community demand in the Dialogue.
Statement of Need
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the Red Cross provides relief services and supplies. Many of the supplies required for relief efforts are fairly standard and can be prepositioned and/or brought into the disaster zone in a timely manner. However, situations often arise where unique one-off items are required in a disaster relief setting and the process of sourcing and delivering them in a timely manner may not be possible.
The Red Cross is exploring the viability of 3D printing and other digital fabrication tools as a part of its early international response platform. For example, the Red Cross is planning to place 3D printers, other fabrication tools and the associated computing power in small-scale workshops (otherwise known as labs or makerspaces) in strategic locations around the world as well as to send as a part of the early response kits they deploy with trained humanitarian professionals.
On the ground, specific needs may arise (for example, the need for a specific type of water spout to facilitate the delivery of an available but difficult to access water supply). Once these needs are identified and appropriately vetted, the 3D printers, laser cutters and other tools can be leveraged to rapidly fabricate the required parts.
The small-scale workshops could also be utilized by community members so they can develop customized solutions to their needs in order to better prepare for or recover from a disaster.