Prephubs: Building community around emergency readiness

The City of Portland, Portland State University, Portland General Electric and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are partnering to create a PREPHub (Emergency Preparedness Hubs) Pilot, a program to improve disaster resilience and emergency preparedness in Portland. Portland City Council voted last year to approve the City’s portion of the funding to support innovation in emergency resilience in the City. The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management is coordinating the project.

Example of a Prephub

Example of a Prephub

PREPHubs are a new kind of infrastructure designed to operate entirely off-grid during a disaster, providing crucial services that include power, communication and emergency first aid supplies. The hubs will be able to recharge cell phones during a natural disaster.

They also provide secure, locked storage for Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node (BEECN) cache equipment. BEECNs are places for Portland residents to go after a major earthquake to ask for emergency assistance and get information. PGE will provide power to the PREPHubs from the grid and from energy storage devices, supplemented by solar arrays and pedal-power.

“The City of Portland is leading the nation on emergency preparedness efforts thanks to this innovative solution from MIT,” says Mayor Ted Wheeler. “We want our residents to feel safe, prepared. These hubs will serve as a place for the community to gather. This will hopefully serve as a model in other cities, making our cities safer and more prepared.”

Pilot Prephub installation begins at Portland State University

The first Pilot Prephub is planned to be installed at Portland State University. Different activities have promoted community engagement to define how this Prephub can better serve its community and improve emergency preparedness, while nurturing a sense of identity and solidarity during a major disaster event. Portland State University, in collaboration with the City and PGE, coordinated a charrette visioning process in late June 2019 that included first responders and community connected to the selected site: students, academics, local residents, Native American community and local artists and activists.

Charrettes are community engagement tools used by design professionals and those working in the public realm. Design charrettes can help communities imagine what the future might look like, and how we might handle special opportunities or challenges in our communities. They are also used as tools to help build consensus and agreement about what issues matter to us most, and how we might move forward to address them as a community.

PrepHubs are urban furniture to be used by everyone in an emergency

Think of PREPHubs as a set of urban installations which support community gathering and access to information after a disaster. Each PREPHub can address non-critical but important needs (communication, aid, information technologies) that will support emergency preparedness and recovery efforts.

If the Pilot Prephub at Portland State University is successful, the City of Portland will evaluate other sites for installations and develop effective community engagement strategies depending on the location and demographics the BEECN site intends to serve.

Ernest Jones, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management

Ernest Jones, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management

The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) is excited about this pilot project and looks forward to seeing the finished product,” says Ernest Jones, PBEM’s volunteer program developer. “This is cutting edge stuff and getting it off the ground is challenging. But our partners remain engaged and committed. We anticipate a ribbon cutting later this year.”

Please visit our project website for further information: www.smartcitypdx.com/prephubs

Additional resources

MIT website that includes the PREPHub project: https://urbanrisklab.org/work#/prephub/

More project websites that are specific to the planned installation: