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Disaster assistance

What can biomedical engineers do to help after a major disaster such as flood, hurricane, earthquake or tsunami?
Does anyone need a biomedical engineer in an disaster situation?


Back to BMEs & BMETS helping our neighbours

Immediately following a disaster there is little need for biomedical engineers, however, there are 2 ways biomedical engineers can help:


Technical aid volunteer

Volunteering in Solomon Islands after earthquake and tsunami
by Mike Denison

There is a certain synergy between biomedical engineering and disaster relief work. Both require similar skill sets (diagnostic/analysis skills, problem solving, stakeholder involvement, negotiation, rapid response, work well under pressure) and the rewards and sense of accomplishment from performing these types of work are also resonant. As with biomedical engineering, there is a need to learn the basic skills of emergency aid. This is done on a training course that might take 1 or 2 weeks.

Antinov rear
Loading the rear of the Antinov with supplies
(Photos supplied by Mike Denison)
Red cross provided emergency relief in April 2007 for the Solomon Islands tsunami which developed after an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale. They sent two experienced logisticians,an experienced emergency response health worker, and an information delegate. Red Cross supplied  tents, tarpaulins, kitchen and hygiene sets, as well as generators, hurricane lamps, water containers, and cooking equipment.

Antinov chain loading

Such courses are run by the large aid organisations like Red Cross and RedR (see details below). Basic training includes OH&S, security, first aid, communications in the field, cultural awareness and organisation specific policies and procedures.

I completed the Red Cross Basic Training course in September 2006. In April 2007, I was sent to Solomon Islands in response to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. My role was coordinating the aid (eg tents, shelter, kitchen equipment, hand tools) arriving in Honiara and ensuring it was transported (by air or boat) to the most affected areas around Gizo.

I spent 2 weeks working with the Solomon Islands Red Cross staff and volunteers. The work was stimulating, exhausting and personally extremely rewarding. I remain on the register for emergency response and look forward to the next opportunity to participate in this type of work.

Logs team
MIke Denison (2nd from the right) with his Solomon Island team

Training to participate in overseas missions

  • Australian Red Cross
    All Australian Red Cross aid workers undergo a comprehensive selection and training process before being accepted for overseas mission. All potential aid workers must attend the Basic Training Course, after which successful applicants are placed on the database and wait to undertake their first mission.

    The cost to attend a BTC is $1000 including GST. This contributes to the cost of accommodation and food whilst on the 6 day course. Air fares to and from the BTC from capital cities within Australia are covered by Australian Red Cross.

  • RedR Australia
    RedR Australia is a not-for-profit humanitarian organisation which selects and trains technical specialists to be available at short notice to work in humanitarian relief. They provide a range of courses ($1500). Two relevant courses are:

    Introduction to Humanitarian Action: Core introductory skills to understand context, teamwork, codes of conduct, humanitarian standards and personal security.
    Technical: Specialist skills related courses targeted on sectoral expertise for example Logistics, Needs Assessment, Water & Environmental Sanitation, and Humanitarian Protection.

  • Oxfam Australian Humanitarian Relief Register
    Oxfam maintains a database of professional, deployable and experienced humanitarian and/or development workers who are available to fulfil the short term and urgent staffing needs of Oxfam Australia.

    Register members may be:

    • Called on for rapid deployment to help in an Oxfam emergency response
    • Deployed to help with post-emergency development work
    • Recruited to an Oxfam Australia field office on a temporary basis
    • Brought in to work at the Oxfam Australia head office

    Oxfam Australia deployments can involve a diverse range of activities so successful candidates are required to have skills and experience beyond their areas of expertise (some possible competencies are listed here).


Temporary hospital mobilisation

When a lot of medical equipment is delivered in a short time, an experienced biomedical engineer could be useful to ensure the delivered equipment is needed, will work when unpacked, meets acceptanceand functionality tests and is certified electrically safe.

Any biomedical engineers that are mobilised to a disaster affected country must be well trained in disaster plans (see section above) and competent so that they are efficient and useful and not a burden.

A broad range of knowledge beyond medical equipment is necessary, particularly knowledge of autoclaves, sterilisers, laboratory equipment, medical gas systems, and electrical switchboards. Contact Engineers Australia Biomedical College if you are interested in registering on their database.




Updated September 28, 2010