Disaster Response Venture Awarded $40,000 by Startup Chile

In a post-disaster environment, getting potable water to areas cut off by destroyed roads and infrastructure can be both time-consuming and ultimately fatal for many. A group of Tech students and alumni has developed a system to address those logistical issues in the wake of disaster, and earned $40,000 from Startup Chile to further develop its idea. 

Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics in Lab
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Travis Horsley, Melissa McCoy and Benjamin Cohen are three-fourths of the Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics (TOHL) team, which received $40,000 from Startup Chile in December 2011. Image courtesy of TOHL.

The team of students and alumni making up Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics (TOHL) will relocate to the South American country for six months as part of a program initiated by the Chilean government to encourage entrepreneurial activity in its country.

TOHL makes use of coil tubing typically used in oil fields and employs a helicopter to drop and arrange tubing from above, creating a way for water to reach remote places following a disaster. The tubing, measuring about an inch in diameter, stays above ground and the process can result in getting water to a community within 48 hours. It’s durable enough to be used for up to 100 years with oil, though this application shortens its life span. Using a helicopter to unspool the tubing removes the obstacle of roads or paths that may be blocked, washed out or destroyed.

Tech alumnus Benjamin Cohen will be the first team member to head to Chile in March, with fellow alumnus Apoorv Sinha and students Melissa McCoy and Travis Horsley joining in May.

“Chile is the perfect place for us [to test TOHL],” said McCoy, a fourth-year chemical and biomolecular engineering major. The country’s recent earthquakes and forest fires provide the team with an opportunity to test its system in a place that has experienced the disasters that TOHL aims to address.

“Right now we want to show that it works, and from that try to partner with [non-governmental organizations] and have the pipe get water to a community that needs it,” McCoy said. They hope to complete a pilot test by April or May and be able to sign on the company’s first customers while in Chile.

TOHL is not the first global health initiative by Tech students to participate in Startup Chile; last June, Tech students and alumni, in conjunction with students from Emory University, were chosen to participate in the program for their solar sanitation endeavor, Sanivation.

The TOHL team will convene with more than 200 other entrepreneurs from around the globe during the third round of the incubation program.