CAMBRIDGE – As our cities are densifying, the structures we rely on on a daily basis are becoming more vulnerable. An urban landscape that is cut off from power, water and communications is highly dysfunctional, fosters panic and becomes dangerous for its inhabitants.
PREPHub, an ongoing research project by the MIT Urban Risk Lab is a new kind of public infrastructure which increases disaster resilience. It is – as the future generally seems to be – modular. Varying units can incorporate a flexible kit ranging from water supply, power, cooking and sanitation to medical supplies and communications. A second characteristic which PREPHub and the general future have in common is being off-grid and, as such, the structure is equipped with a pedalled DC generator and solar panels.
The entities carry names like Park Version or Plaza Type and are casually integrated into public spaces where they function as communal meeting points. The integration into daily life ensures familiarity with the equipment before disasters actually happen and and invites public spaces to be used more often. In the prototypes that have been installed in San Francisco, the local community strongly embraced the new addition. And truly this is no surprise, despite hostile names like PREPHub and Urban Risk Lab, the product offers legitimately mundane – yet useful – functions like visual communication and a USB phone charger.
Besides the campus prototype, MIT has started real on-site testing to form a global resilient network – which is necessary because the true benefit will only reveal itself as more PREPHubs are connected to each other. After securing funding through the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge 2016, part of the Urban Risk Lab team is currently developing a pilot site in Kathmandu, Nepal – a location which certainly poses other challenges compared to MIT’s metropolitan Cambridge campus. Interestingly, the structure of communal meeting places is far more spread out in rural communities as piped water connections are are only occasionally available. Other locations that already (or soon will) form part of the planned global network include Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Haiti and Peru, as well as San Francisco.
The only thing to hope for is, that the PREPHubs themselves will not become useless during hurricanes or floods due to damage.
Photos MIT Urban Risk Lab