When Disaster Strikes: Innovating Disaster Response

Posted by Jennifer Kovacs Silvis | February 28, 2019

This article is part of an expanded online version of “When Disaster Strikes,” a special report on designing for resiliency and disaster preparedness that was first published in the March 2019 issue of Healthcare Design

Healthcare Design’s inaugural Breaking Through conceptual design competition tasked industry members with identifying a challenge in the future delivery of healthcare and solving it with an innovative conceptual solution. Among the issues identified by participating teams was disaster response. In fact, the winning submission from HDR—as chosen live by attendees in a general session at the 2018 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference held this past November in Phoenix—was a hovering disaster response hospital. For more on that, see the December 2018 issue of Healthcare Design or visit Below, find details on two other submissions that explored how to respond to disaster events more efficiently and effectively.

Concept: The Ubulance, ED, and Disaster Events
Submitted by: University of Kansas Institute for Health and Wellness Design
Challenge identified: Addressing the provision of emergency care, this concept explores the challenges of high-acuity patients in surge scenarios, such as after man-made or natural disasters, and the risks associated with staff effectiveness, safety, and outcomes when a traditional ED becomes overcrowded.
Solution: The Ubulance bridges the gap between emergency care prior to arrival at the ED and care delivered once there, delivering custom-designed transportation compartments that attach to a vehicle for transport or serve as a point of care within the ED. The vehicle would be semiautonomous, with drones transporting blood specimens to the ED, while preliminary triage and registration activities take place inside. At the ED, the vehicle could plug into receiving docks, allowing the care compartment to disengage and the vehicle to move on to other missions. The compartment would expand to function as an exam room with necessary medical gasses, etc. Staging areas outside would hold handwashing sinks, personal protective equipment, and supplies. The containers could also be operated at the site of a disaster, using telemedicine for care and assembled into a mini receiving hospital for mass casualties.

Concept: Emergency Aviation Unit of the Near Future
Submitted by: Stantec Architecture
Challenge identified: Access to healthcare, for basic care but also in emergency scenarios that take place in remote areas, is often affected by geographic availability. This is due not just to distance but to the traditional model of the patient going to the hospital rather than the hospital going to the patient.
Solution: This project proposes a model that brings life-saving tools and interventions to the scene of an emergency though the assistance of an emergency aviation unit that uses drone technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to respond more rapidly than what’s accomplished today. The unit is one piece of a three-part system that includes a signaling device, or microchip, with scanning capabilities to monitor an individual’s health and detect when one is in distress. The emergency aviation unit itself would be among a host of units that hover above the air space, ready to respond to signals, with AI guiding the unit to the scene. AI would also be used to scan, detect, and respond to the situation, including providing diagnostic imaging and even surgical interventions.

To see all of the projects submitted to Breaking Through, visit

To read the full special report, “When Disaster Strikes,” go here