A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
Main Content

Disaster Relief Trials Pedal Toward Community Resilience

June 2016

Cities embrace cargo bikes as crucial to the supply chain during emergencies Disaster Relief Trials logo

In times of disasters, when critical infrastructure may be vulnerable or destroyed, community resilience becomes paramount. In anticipation of the potential threat of an earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a growing network of cyclists, nonprofits, and emergency managers have joined forces to bring communities together for cargo bike races. Founded by Mike Cobb, the Disaster Relief Trials (DRTs) are a fun, practical means to improve community disaster planning. During the races, participants race across their city hauling resources that simulate cargo runs they might make following a disaster.

Three people pushing bikes carrying emergency supplies up a hill
Participants of Portland's DRTs work together
to get their bike up a hill, one of the course's
many obstacles.

Cargo Bikes as Community Resources

Portland residents frequently use cargo bikes as a means of hauling anything from groceries to friends and family. Cobb, an avid bicyclist and proud member of Portland’s cycling community, saw the cargo bike’s value in disaster response because of its ability to haul heavy loads with relative ease and without reliance on gas, electricity, or roads. Through DRTs, Cobb and other volunteers work to increase the visibility of cargo bikes as a community resource that can be incorporated into municipal disaster plans nationwide.

During the DRTs, each bike must carry up to 110 pounds of relief supplies, and each race must include several essential elements. For example, all races must last at least three hours, have routes that include a barrier (water crossing or off-road terrain), and include a parcel that contains three eggs, which represent fragile supplies like medicine vials. Each broken eggs costs contestants a 10-minute penalty added to their finish time. The bike races engage individuals, families, and teams across the community. 

"What keeps me coming back is the
postiive experiences of the riders. The
energy, enthusiasm, and capability
demonstrated during each race blows
my mind, and it is heartening to see the
resilience of the community at the
individual level."

--Emma Stocker, Assistant Director of
Emergency Management, Portland State

Rallying Support for Cargo Bike Disaster Response

Since Portland hosted its first DRTs in 2012, organizers have brought emergency management and cycling communities together to other regions, holding DRTs and affiliated events in Eugene, OR; Seattle, WA; and San Francisco, CA. DRTs have been building interest in Boulder, CO, and Victoria, British Columbia, hosted "Tour Disasters,” a variation on the DRT theme.

“Registering our event with America’s PrepareAthon! let us inform all vested parties in emergency preparedness across the region about how cargo bikes can help assist during disasters and heighten awareness of disaster preparedness,” said Patience Winningham, senior program coordinator with the City of Eugene’s Emergency Management Department, and local DRT organizer.

Connecting Communities Beyond the Race
A man in an orange shirt riding a bike that has been loaded with emergency supplies
Matt McRae speeds through the 2015 Disaster
Relief Trials race in Euguene, OR.
From the initial planning session until long after the event, each of the DRTs fosters unique connections among businesses and nonprofit organizations within and outside the cycling community, such as local offices of emergency management, Community Emergency Response Teams, professional responders, universities, American Red Cross chapters, and cycling advocacy groups.

Even after the DRTs end, the pedals keep turning, as funds raised from the events are used to support both the cycling and emergency management communities, keeping lines of communication open among major stakeholders.

If you are interested in joining this exciting effort by bringing DRTs to your area, visit www.disasterrelieftrials.com for more information.