Reducing Our Risk

Organization: 
LuminAID Lab

Entry Overview

LuminAID designs and manufactures solar lighting products for humanitarian and disaster relief aid. Our first product—the LuminAID solar inflatable light—has been used by more than 150,000 people in 45 countries. LuminAID lights are lightweight, waterproof, and inflate to create a lantern that can be re-charged using the sun. The LuminAID solar light weighs just under 3 ounces and is affordable and easy to distribute in large numbers, making them ideal for use after disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods.

Our entry is focused on a particular case study where LuminAID lights were used to aid the people of Haiti in 2012 after the passing of Tropical (eventually, Hurricane) Storm Isaac. The affected population were those who were living in tent cities and informal settlements which developed almost two years prior after the 2010 earthquake. In this way, the earthquake and then storm represented a “one-two punch” for those living in these informal tent cities. We partnered with the NGO Can-Do.org to distribute 1000 lights to the affected area which was otherwise without electricity.

General Info
Andrea
Sreshta
Email : 
andrea@luminaid.com
Organization Address: 
5718 Westheimer Rd.,
Houston, Texas 77057
United States
Problem
Population Impacted: 
1000 Families (in this specific case in Haiti)
Hazard: 
Precipitation (Snow/Rain)
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Hurricanes and typhoons are seasonal events in both the Atlantic and Pacific corridors. Atlantic hurricane season generates on average 6 storms that eventually become 3 fully-fledged hurricanes per year (source: Wikipedia).
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
Haiti was a country where grid connectivity was lacking even before the 2010 earthquake. Tropical Storm Isaac further reduced Haiti's grid infrastructure and connectivity. Many of those affected were living in close quarters in tent cities and relied upon dangerous and toxic kerosene lanterns and candles for lighting at night.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Water, wind and flooding are all detrimental to electrical and grid infrastructure. Power outages occur in many cases after the rain, wind and flooding that result from hurricanes and tropical storms.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
The community living in tent cities was and still is especially vulnerable to the effects of storms due to weak and informal infrastructure. Reliance upon kerosene lanterns and candles for lighting creates a toxic and dangerous environment due to the resulting toxic fumes and potential fire hazards. Women and children especially feel unsafe at night in the absence of lighting for safety and survival.
Action
Preparedness Goal: 
We partner with aid agencies in the U.S. and abroad to make safe, sustainable lighting accessible to at-risk populations before and after disasters and crises
Implementing Actions: 

Our current business model is one where we manufacture our solar inflatable lighting technology and then partner with charities, NGOs and large humanitarian aid agencies to distribute LuminAID solar lights on the ground before or after disasters in at-risk areas. While we are a small business focused on innovation and technology in portable and renewable lighting, many of our partners and customers are agencies that are experts in distributing emergency aid supplies in large volumes. Partnering and working with these agencies is the quickest and most reliable way in which we can ensure that critical lighting supplies can reach at-risk populations in large numbers and quickly. For example, past partners and customers include Shelterbox.org, UNAIDS + United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Doctors Without Borders, local and county emergency relief agencies, and Can-Do.org. In the case of Can-Do.org, we were able to liaise with agency workers who were on the ground in Haiti to distribute the 1000 LuminAID solar lights affected by Tropical Storm Isaac. Our lights are offered at-cost or at no cost to these agencies and partners. In order to make our lighting technology affordable to our NGO and charitable partners, we work hard to keep the performance of LuminAID lights high while keeping costs low. We believe in making clean and safe lighting affordable and accessible to all, especially during times of disasters and crises. 

 

Solution
Describe Your Solution: 

Although food, water and shelter are priorities in relief aid, lighting is an oft-overlooked need. After storms such as Tropical Storm Isaac, people are unable to function after dark and feel unsafe at night. The LuminAID solar light is a portable, rechargeable light that provides lighting necessary to keep victims safe after disasters like storms and floods. LuminAID lights reduce the risk of fires due to the use of candles and kerosene lanterns in place of safer solutions for lighting in environments like the Haitian tent cities or other disaster-prone settlements. 

The LuminAID light is a solar-powered, inflatable lamp that packs flat and inflates to create a lightweight, waterproof lantern. The LuminAID light is designed to meet the distribution challenges of an emergency by packing and shipping flat and weighing just under 3 ounces. One standard box of 100 LuminAID lights weighs just 25 lbs. LuminAID lights are 100% PVC and phthalate free, are designed to last up to 5 years and does not require replacement batteries. For 7 hours of charging in sunlight, LuminAID lights yield 16 hours of ambient night light on the LOW setting and up to 10 hours of bright light on the HIGH setting. The LED light yields up to 35 lumens, which is enough light to read by in a small room or tent.

LuminAID has filed two provisional utility patents which cover the combination of the inflatable body with the solar circuit, allowing for variations in product shape, size and materials. The technology was invented by Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork in graduate design school just after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  Although there are other portable solar lighting and flashlight technologies on the market, LuminAID solar lights are the most sustainable and lightweight lights used in disaster relief aid efforts today.

Results
Economic?: 

The 1000 LuminAID lights distributed after Tropical Storm Isaac allowed families to carry on activity after dark including work. LuminAID lights also provided a cost-effective lighting solution due to not needing any replacement batteries. Lastly, the lights saved families money that would otherwise have been spent on expensive and dangerous kerosene or hazardous candles. 

Environmental?: 

The burning of kerosene generates toxic and dangerous fumes that can be a detriment to health and safety and especially for children. Kerosene causes impairments to respiratory health, causes burns, and in some cases can result in death. Candles are a fire and safety hazard, especially when used in dense and compact living quarters such as that of the tent cities. Rechargeable solar and LED lighting technology such as that used in LuminAID lights are a safe and sustainable alternative to lighting on the ground after disasters. 

Social?: 

Conditions in the Haitian tent cities were especially poor for women and children who felt unsafe and at-risk of rape and kidnappings at night. The introduction of safe lighting into the tent camps allowed people to have lighting to traverse between their tents and other parts of the camp including latrines at night. Our charitable and NGO partners have validated the impact of LuminAID in situations where women and children faced unsafe conditions after a disaster and the ability of LuminAID lights to enhance safety of disaster victims in various post-disaster light distributions around the world. 

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

The introduction of items valuable in relief aid such as solar lights can potentially result in minor theft of items. While LuminAID lights represent an item that can be valuable after a disaster where resources are scarce, the fact that it has no movable parts and is portable even when charging mitigates the risk of theft. 

Replication/Scale
Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

The cost involved in making LuminAID solar lights available in disaster situations includes the cost to manufacture our proprietary solar lighting technology (cost not disclosed publically) as well as the cost to support our business operations to manage and execute work with our NGO and aid agency partners. LuminAID lights are cost effective and save money and time on-the-ground due to their ease of shipping, transport and distribution. In addition to the 1000 lights distributed by Can-Do.org in Haiti, we have worked with organizations such as Shelterbox.org and Doctors Without Borders to distribute more than 20,000 LuminAID lights on the ground after Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines.  Most recently, LuminAID lights were distributed to victims of the 2014 floods in Kashmir, India. LuminAID solar lights have been used during times of heavy rains, flooding, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The ability of lighting to universally enhance safety and survival for victims of many different types of disasters is an important and worthwhile and necessary endeavor when compared to the low cost of LuminAID solar lighting technology. 

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

We have been able to work with aid agencies and NGO's to distribute lights on the ground after Tropical Storm Isaac in Haiti, Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, and other disasters while demonstrating the effectiveness of our technology and solution along the way.  Although LuminAID has had past success in partnering and working with organizations to distribute LuminAID lights after a disaster, there are many requirements for a company to successfully supply and meet the needs of agencies working to mitigate risks before and after disasters. One of the more difficult barriers to overcome is the need to stock a certain amount of inventory at all times (at least 5,000 units if not more) so that we are able to supply our product just-in-time as is required for suppliers of relief aid in the face of uncertain weather and disaster patterns. This is an expensive and difficult proposition for any small business. The money from a grant via the Reducing our Risk competition would help us to afford this safety stock. The Reducing our Risk grant would also provide some funding to further optimize our technology and reduce manufacturing costs, making renewable lighting even more accessible to those in-need after disasters. 

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

Contest Partners

Contest Sponsors

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