Designing Better Disaster Relief

Aug 9, 2016 2:25 PM ET
Pictured, left to right: Jared Wilkins, Wes Norris, Jacques Laine, Abby Lemert, Kit Philleo, Bea Minana

The following post is part of a series of stories written by Booz Allen Hamilton’s Summer Games interns. The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Booz Allen.

Written by Abby Lemert

The firm doesn’t choose the adventure for us, they choose us for the adventure.

“We assign you to a project, yes. But we don’t assign you randomly…We want to hear about your interests, passions, and skillsets and what you want to learn and where you want to grow…Your projects are crowd-sourced from current Booz Allen employees, then put to a firm-wide vote, and the winning challenges are assigned to teams. We work to put you on a project that matches your interests.” That was my introduction to Booz Allen Hamilton’s Summer Games Internship Program, given by the Games’ organizer.

My team is working on the Supplying Emergency Water to Disaster Zones project. One of the greatest challenges following a man-made or natural disaster is getting clean water to affected populations. Disasters oftentimes impair critical infrastructure that prevent water supplies from getting into damaged areas.

Natural disasters alone have caused the deaths of 8 million people since the turn of the 20th century. Lack of drinkable water causes approximately 12% of those deaths.  That means that, on average, 23 people die every day from lack of clean water following a disaster.

My team is not full of disaster relief experts, but rather an amalgamation of mechanical engineering students, businessmen, and sustainability majors – so we are able to analyze the problem from a unique angle.

Several weeks into our project, we broke the problem down into key categories that we are solving and strategically taking steps to address:

  • How do you get the right technologies to affected populations?
  • How can water treatment technologies be combined more efficiently?
  • How can we better take into consideration local factors and behaviors?
  • How can we utilize case studies from organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross?

Through all of this we’ve made progress on solutions such as a decision-making tool to aid NGOs following a disaster, and a filter design that more effectively combines existing technologies to make sure it can be used by those who need it.

Sometimes, after a long and exhausting day of debating ideas and action plans, I sit back and look at our team and think – if anyone can help solve this challenge, it’s this multidisciplinary group of problem solvers.

Abby Lemert is an undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering at Purdue University and a Booz Allen intern in Washington, D.C.