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Can cargo bikes help in a disaster? Emergency managers want to find out

Published October 12, 2018

ARLINGTON, Va. (BRAIN) — In an emergency response trial held here recently, bicyclists were able to transport 1,250 pounds of water and 1,100 pounds of food over difficult terrain, showing how the vehicles can be put to use when needed the most.

The Arlington Office of Emergency Management held a "Disaster Relief Trial" on Sept. 29, where participants were asked to complete obstacles and challenges using cargo bikes and regular bikes as the tools for disaster response.

"We don't have a plan in place to use bicycles in the event of an emergency," said Samantha Brann, the deputy coordinator for Arlington Emergency Management. "We are using this event to learn more about the capacities of bikes during emergencies. This event was originally intended to help participants learn more about how bicycles could be an emergency preparedness, response and recovery tool for them, and encourage community members to better prepare themselves for emergencies."

Spokes, Etc., a regional retail chain with a location in Arlington, supported the trial, which attracted about 70 families and individuals.

"Most people associate bicycles with exercise, recreation or commuting," said Spokes, Etc.'s president, Jim Strang. "But during a major disaster, bicycles may be the only means that people have to escape danger or assist in the response when roads became gridlocked or damaged. We welcomed the opportunity to be part of an effort to help educate the community on how bicycles can be used during a time of need."

The challenges included a physical barrier, a water crossing, rough terrain, and food and water pickups. Some teams accepted additional challenges, to relay a critical message, demonstrate use of a fire extinguisher, and pack a simulated wound.

Participants had four hours to get through all the checkpoints. They received points based on completing the challenges successfully and transporting heavier weights of emergency supplies to the finish line. The top finishers received prizes.

Arlington officials are surveying participants to learn how they will consider using their bikes in everyday and disaster situations.

The Arlington event was modeled on challenges set up by Disaster Relief Trials, which has helped organize similar trials since 2014 in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Bend, Oregon.

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Photos courtesy of Spokes, Etc.

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