Thursday, 24 February 2011

MACHINE OF THE DAY (RE-POST): Inflatable Jacks—the perfect thing for earthquake rescue

I first posted this in January last year after the Haiti earthquake. With the fanning out around Christchurch today of specialist urban search-and-rescue crews, we might see some of these beauties being used to save human lives.

Our ‘machine of the day’ today has to be the amazing rescue air bag. An inflatable jack.  So simple, yet such an effective way to rescue people trapped under wrecked cars or buried under tons of rubble. Haiti_5__671906a

Just like they are in Haiti (where the only good news today is that their tax office now lies in ruins).

capt_photo_1263417015962-1-0Inflatable jacks are especially effective when a building’s floors have “pancaked”—i.e., when the columns have collapsed in a quake letting the floors fall, sickeningly, in sequence, one on top of another.  With people trapped in between.

Just like that pile of rubble on the right that used to be a six-storey building.

But you’re no less trapped under the collapsed two-storey below.

capt_eef7439a8ab54a728e1d6f634dc6dc67_aptopix_haiti_earthquake_xra110Instead of using your regular hydraulic or scissors jack to lift the rubble (with their point-loads creating problems and their inherent instability) or the agony of carefully (and slowly) hacking through layers of rubble with pick and hammer, these inflatable babies can be slid underneath and inside the layers and easily inflated: safely spreading the load as they lift so they don’t  disturb the debris any father or set up dangerous new load paths to endanger other folk who are trapped. 

You can lift gently and simply, with the lift always controlled and stable—even during aftershocks.  The bag is always its own “safety mat.”

Brilliant!  The mind’s ingenuity applied to the rescue of human life.

I hope there are truck loads of ‘em on their way to Haiti Christchurch right now.

NB: I can’t finds any clips showing the inflatable jacks in use in earthquake rescues.  I guess everybody’s always too busy.  But here’s a few clips showing ‘the power of the bag’ for lifting vehicles.  You’ll have to extrapolate.

As you see, they come in all sizes, large and small. And they can be used so delicately, they’re also just the thing for moving your Polaris rocket:




  1. I'm skeptical. The most difficult part of the operation (getting the bags underneath something) isn't shown on any video.
    It wouldm't be as simple as jacking it up with hydraulics because that assumes a contiguous, structurally sound piece element. Nothing suitable was really visable at CTV or PGG I thought.

  2. Not so. The bag is placed in a pocket between rubble, under a slab or beam or the like (always there in a demolition or collapse) that can help distribute the lift to other elements.

  3. thedrinken watchman24 Feb 2011, 16:54:00

    pretty sure the NZ fire brigade was using these 30 years ago

  4. the drunken watchman24 Feb 2011, 16:56:00

    whoops, about to rewrite,

    saying "weren't these in use 30 years ago by NZ Fire Brigade?"

  5. PC, What's your view on so called "price gouging". I've been (predictably) getting flak over at kiwiblog for having the temerity to suggest that it's a good idea (in the wake of the quake).

    Why not stick your neck out and do a post on this "sensitive" subject, as I know you are such a sensitive type :)

  6. I think these would be useful for a private motorist for tyre changing. They'd need to be self-inflating but they'd pack away neatly. Gerry Brownlie could do the job too, you'd just need to ply him with pies for about 30mins and he would inflate beneath anything.

  7. @Anon: Good idea. But you'd have trouble slipping Gerry Brownlee under any modern car in current production. :-)


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