News: McNair Exhibit Showcases Disaster Relief Solutions
Story by Gerry Gilmore
WASHINGTON - Portable satellite-communications sets, water purifiers, electricity generators, solar-cooking devices and more are on display until Oct. 9 at Fort Lesley J. McNair here as part of an international disaster-relief research and assistance program co-coordinated by the National Defense University.
The two-year-old STAR-TIDES -- Sustainable Technologies Accelerated Research Transformative Innovation for Development and Emergency Support -- program, brings public and private entities together each year to showcase equipment designed for communities stricken by natural or man-made disasters or war. Those solutions include shelter, water, power, communications and other critical needs.
"What this is about is sustainable, affordable support to stressed populations — post-war, post-disaster, impoverished," said Linton Wells II, a professor and force transformation chair at NDU's Center for Technology and National Security Policy on Fort McNair.
STAR-TIDES seeks to "pull together a public/private, whole-of-government, transnational approach to addressing these problems; so it's not just [the Defense Department], it's a much broader approach," said Wells, a retired Navy captain and former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration.
The STAR-TIDES program, Wells said, supports the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2006 by finding ways to help stabilize and introduce democracy to underdeveloped nations and soliciting civilian agencies to become involved in those efforts.
The solar-, wind- and water-powered equipment on display at Fort McNair, Wells said, is operational without an established electricity grid.
"The idea is you've got to be able to come to a cold, open field and be able to operate," he explained.
The equipment is designed to be deployed and operated at locations worldwide, said Walker Hardy, a research associate for Wells at NDU.
"In different countries, there's always a different problem and that's what the STAR-TIDES project is about," Walker pointed out. "We're not the equipment experts, but we're going to work with the equipment experts and we're going to work with the policy experts and the regional experts to find the right piece of equipment that fits that country or that region."
Larry Lowe, vice president of engineering for the Huntsville, Ala.,-based GATR Technologies, showed off a portable, inflatable satellite-communications system that can be transported and set up anywhere in the world and be "pushing data" within an hour. A similar system, he said, is in use in Afghanistan.
About 50 yards away, Kevin Jones, the president of Pittsburgh-based Cardinal Resources, drank a cool glass of clean water provided by his company's portable water-treatment system.
"In 30 minutes, you can be pumping clean drinking water," said Jones, noting the water treated by his system had been pumped from the not-so-clean Potomac River.
Richard DeLuca, president of HydroCoil Power Inc. of Wynnewood, Pa., demonstrated a mini water turbine that can be placed in rivers and streams to generate electricity.
And, Tom Sponheim, who works for the Solar Cookers International nonprofit organization based in Sacramento, Calif., demonstrated several cooking units of various design operated by the sun.
The most basic, inexpensive solar cooker on display, Sponheim said, is constructed of cardboard with a reflective coating. Similar units, he said, are being used in Africa and Afghanistan.
Materials used to make inexpensive solar cookers "are available in most countries," Sponheim said.
Patricia McArdle, a retired U.S. diplomat who now does volunteer work for Solar Cookers, had served with a provincial reconstruction team in northern Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, McArdle witnessed "little kids pulling bushes out of the ground and hauling them home for their mom to cook with." The region, she said, had been deforested to burn wood for charcoal.
McArdle praised STAR-TIDES for its efforts to help promote the solar cooker program, noting that using brush and bushes to burn for cooking fuel can cause respiratory problems.
"It's very important because the need is desperate in many countries," McArdle said of the solar cooking program. "If we were able to help these people to cook with the sun, we wouldn't have to spend as much money as we're spending shipping in fuel ... we wouldn't be contributing to deforestation.
"And, I think we would build a lot of goodwill by sharing this technology with people and empowering them to make it themselves," McArdle said.