Bicycles: Ultimate Natural Disaster Response Tools

Samantha Brann Tweet us @ReadyArlington @ReadyArlington September 12, 2018 1 Comments

Samantha Brann is a deputy coordinator for the Arlington County Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management, where she coordinates volunteer programming and community outreach and education. Samantha is a bike commuter, cyclocross racer, and general two-wheel enthusiast.

Facebook Tweet us @BikeArlington

From Houston to Tokyo to Northern California, bikes have been used to render aide or evacuate people more efficiently after natural disasters. Your bike could be your lifeline after an emergency. by participating in the Disaster Relief Trials on September 29.

Have you considered how you might evacuate your home if the road was blocked by traffic or debris? During California’s wildfire season last year, this was the exact scenario residents faced as they fled for their lives.

As Charity Ruiz, her husband, and two toddlers were evacuating from the Tubbs fire last fall, they encountered a wall of other vehicles attempting to escape. Ruiz, who was seven months pregnant at the time said, “it was coming so fast. It looked like the fire was jumping towards us. I knew we had to get out. There was no way we were going to make it through in the car.” The family drove back to their home, where they put the children in a bike trailer, and Ruiz biked with them to safety.

Bikes are Used as Disaster Response and Recovery Tools

Bicycles have been informally incorporated in disaster response and recovery for years. After the Tokyo metro system was shut down due to the 2011 earthquake, stranding 2.6 million people in the metro area, stores sold out of bicycles as workers evacuated the city. Cyclists transported food, water, and other supplies to New York City residents isolated after Hurricane Sandy by the flooded subway system, fuel shortages and rationing, and traffic gridlock.

More recently, cyclists conducted damage assessments for responders in areas inaccessible to vehicles following the Mexico City Earthquake, reporting locations of trapped victims and bringing medical and other supplies to assist in the response. And bicycle manufacturing companies Giant and Trek collaborated with local bike shops to supply residents of Houston with bicycles following Hurricane Harvey, where over a half a million motor vehicles were damaged, to help the community return to normal.

Bikes Can be Your Lifeline

Cyclists have informally responded to emergencies, but often times people don’t incorporate bikes into their personal emergency plans which is why Arlington Emergency Management and BikeArlington are hosting the Disaster Relief Trials (DRT) on September 29.

The DRT simulates a disaster which blocks the roads, challenging participants to use their bicycles to transport emergency supplies, critical messages, and (simulated) medicine while traversing obstacles commonly found in disasters, such as a physical barrier, water crossing, and rough terrain.

We want participants and community members to reconsider how they think about, and plan for, emergencies, including the tools and resources they may already have available. “The Disaster Relief Trials allows us to engage the community about the important role bikes can play in emergency preparedness and response,” says Emergency Management Deputy Director Will Flagler.

Test your bike. Test yourself.

Practice what it’s like to help others during a natural disaster and learn ways to incorporate bikes into your emergency plans. Register yourself, with a team, or your family (yes, children can participate).


Photo Credit: Flickr/Yellekenna

  • alain smithee says:

    Montague made folding bikes for the US military to use in the Middle East. If any of those bikes are available under the “1033 Program”, local emergency management and fire departments could use them.

    I also stumbled across this PDF ( of plans for a bicycle ambulance that MIT designed for use in Africa. The plans may prove useful for people wishing to build a trailer that could be used for either people or cargo.


To prevent spam, comments will be approved before appearing on the post. If you have a comment or question, but do not want it to be published, please email BikeArlington.