Southern Command aim spurs FIU to create solar medical hub for disasters
By Meena Rupani
When electricity isn't available, solar power may be the next best thing.
Florida International University's Applied Research Center is developing a mobile medical center that would run completely on solar power and could purify up to 400 gallons of water a day, according to the center.
The military might adopt the system for use worldwide in remote locations where liquid fuel supplies are difficult to transport if tests go smoothly.
Solar energy cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, can provide small amounts of power for watches or large amounts for an electric grid.
The project is a part of the Western Hemisphere Information Exchange Program, also known as WHIX, sponsored by the US Southern Command, based in Doral.
"The main mission of WHIX is to explore new renewable energy sources. We usually don't deal as much with the medical aspect of the mission," said Maj. Vincent Grizio of the Southern Command.
"However, this project is giving us a chance to explore new medical opportunities while using new energy sources."
The project is in the development phase, according to Maj. Grizio, and is looking for technologies that will be used on the project.
A few demonstrations have been done with the initial design of the center.
FIU received a $2.1 million congressional add-on in 2008 for the mobile medical center that would cover all materials and personnel needed to develop the project.
"We are looking for a country to test out the mobile medical center at the moment. The command has recently worked with El Salvador, Peru, Panama and the Dominican Republic," Maj. Grizio said. "Therefore, it will most likely be a country in Latin America or the Caribbean."
FIU's mobile medical center is an updated version of the mobile medical trailer that Bill Young from the Florida Solar Energy Center created and used first in 1999 when Hurricane Charley hit South Florida.
"The trailer needs to be set up at a medical tent, as opposed to the mobile medical center from FIU that would have the power strip right on it," Mr. Young said. "It is a neat and fresh idea."
"There are no other fuel sources when a hurricane strikes. Additionally, solar power is replacing greenhouse gases."
When arriving at a disaster area in Punta Gorda, Mr. Young worked with FEMA and Disaster Medical Assistant Teams.
"I heard the sound of petroleum-fueled generators before I even saw them. I've learned from medical teams at other disaster sites that there's a real psychological trauma at disasters caused by the noise and smell of diesel generators."
The mobile medical trailer, unlike FIU's mobile medical center, will be used only in Florida.
"The funding for the project was given by the state. We were given $200,000 for the trailer, workshops and training," Mr. Young said.
Workshops are still being given by the Florida Solar Energy Center. The last one was at the Governor's Hurricane Conference from May 15 to 20.
As for the mobile medical center at FIU, the US Southern Command has reached out to local military institutions to assist with the project, according to Maj. Grizio.
"Nothing is for certain just yet," he said. "Some places have expressed their interest in the project. Ultimately we will build a US-based team to develop the project further."