Solving a problem in emergency evacuation

I really like this story, which I got from Medgadget (hat tip). It's about a new product, designed by a student, Mr. Edwin Yau of the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. It was the winner of the (Australian) Dyson Design Awards, and it looks like it deserved it.

Mr. Yau's design for the StairbustA addresses a major problem in any emergency evacuation and also in just moving sick people from one spot to another. I know about this because I worked my way through school as a "transporter" in a hospital radiology department. Here's the description of the StairbustA:

The StairbustA is an unique product that allows a single user to rapidly transfer a non-ambulant elderly or disabled person down a flight of stairs and over harsh terrain in an emergency situation, without compromising the safety and wellbeing of the evacuee. The StairbustA is unique in that it is able to transform from a "stretcher" position to a "chair" position due to the integration of a two-way hydraulic actuator and a clever pin-catch adjustment system. This ability to transform makes the StairbustA unlike any other product currently available on the market.

The StairbustA represents excellence in design as its functional capabilities encompass a wide range of emergency evacuation scenarios, primarily due to its ability to transform from a "stretcher" position to a "chair" position. The entire stretcher component can also be "unclipped" from the main chassis in case of confined space evacuation. This is a product which would be suited, but not limited to, situations where the safe and rapid evacuation of non-ambulant elderly or disabled persons is crucial, for example, a fire scenario in a nursing home, hospital, community centre, library, etc.

Existing products designed for use in emergency evacuation scenarios possess many flaws such as their inability to negotiate tight corners; the requirement of more than one carer per evacuee per occasion; the inappropriateness for transportation of frail patients; and the necessity for prior training to use the device as opposed to design intuition. In addition, the majority of existing products are manufactured overseas which has resulted in inflated costs, with products ranging from $500-3000 per device.


The original use of a two-way hydraulic actuator integrated with a pin-catch adjustment system allows the product to transform from a "stretcher" position to a "chair" position with minimal effort and in little time. The "stretcher" position allows the non-ambulant patient to be transferred onto the device in a supine position, for example from a bed. This is critical for the evacuation of non-ambulant patients who are physically incapable of movement without external assistance, and is a design feature which current products do not possess. Following the transferal of the patient onto the device, the device is then adjusted into the "chair" position before it travels over the stairs and to safety in an outside location. The patient can then be offloaded and the device re-used immediately to evacuate any further evacuees. (Dyson Design Awards)

Mr. Yau took care to use existing parts to keep manufacturing costs down. This is the kind of thing that could have come out of the private sector, but didn't.

Here's a pic:

i-fbedfd1fe1168517c5e58bc15df5d5fa-evacuation 1.jpg

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It looks like a great product but watch as someone in the hospital establishment opposes its adoption.

I am reminded of the folk who developed an RFID scanner to check for RFID-tagged surgical sponges in patient just prior to closing at surgery. The OR nurses prevented its adoption for fear that without sponges to count they'd lose their jobs.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

In light of current events Lisa, can you blame them? Revere's ideal world UHC would entail everyone being employed by the system.... cant have that if they use technology. Its not a slam, its the facts. We are slowly being crushed in this country by ensuring that we are not competitive in the world. That gizmo above is a classy piece of work and your statement is well grounded. They cant and wont adopt it because it would put one piece of equipment out of work and the manufacturers that make it out too. Multi-axis geometry equipment? Posh.... cant have that on our premises.

Then there is the liability. That piece of equipment is untested and someone would have to ride it down a stairway a couple of times to work the kinks out. Since its transporting an elderly patient who is unable to fend for themselves, there has to be some sort of mechanism to stop them from pushing themselves over the ledge. What about conformity to existing ambulances and the like? Hmmmm.......

Its way cool. Unless they can produce it for at least 1/2 of the existing cost of two pieces of equipment and the liability issues are not worked out its an engineering marvel that wont ever see the light of day. He should just pay the liability for it for two years, give it to a couple of hospitals and old folks homes and then sit back and wait for the orders to come in. Each time one comes, he should raise the price for the next one and thats how he can beat this dog where it lays. Put a RFID on it too, then you'll know where the patient with the RFID sponges are too.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

Randy: Universal coverage (even universal health care) does not imply everyone is employed by the system. That's not true in the UK or France or Canada or the Scandinavian countries or Russia. Red herring (or perhaps red baiting).

We already have UHC in the USA. It's called the emergency room. Heart attacks, asthma, cuts, falls, strokes are all treated. No issue of what country you are from either. It may not cover office visits, but wait long enough and you'll be in bad enough shape to visit a trama center. . . gotta be a better way. . .

There are more private, not-for-profit clinics here than there are publicly-run clinics, which means that your assertion that everyone in a universal healthcare system would be "working for the system." Actually, most doctors and nurses here (Soviet Canuckistan) work for the clinic corporations with which they're affiliated, which bill the province according to the rates established jointly by the province and the federal government.

Five gets you ten this thing gets picked up and implemented broadly in a universal healthcare system before it ever catches on widely in the US. See, with a centralised, or locally homogenous system (like what we have here where the provinces administer and run the healthcare system), you can do that sort of thing. In the US, where every bit of the healthcare "system," if you can call it a system, is its own separate fiefdom, you can't.

Since it was invented by an Australian, I'd say the odds are in my favour already.

By Interrobang (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

Not baiting Revere. Those countries already pay straight thru their noses and IMO they have become second rate powers because of it. Also most of them dont pay for their defense, we do.

Most of their income is paid as support for a dying system that keeps on sucking more and more from the shrinking working class. Yeah you can pipe up about Sweden but they dont have a military to speak of. It will never work here because we already have a huge non-working class that will file for benefits and never pay a thing into the system. Instant bankruptcy and thats not including the instant bankruptcies of the war, and S.Security. Add in a few million illegals from all over the planet and we will see a second civil war here. IMO of course.

The chair above is a great invention and innovation is great. Thats what the US needs..innovation. Best way to fix the US is to purge the rolls and then start over from needs assessment. We dont need UHC, we need the insurance companies to do what they are paid to do and that is to cover people.

If they are low income, they should have a policy that covers them too. Tennessee got into the indigent biz and it bankrupted the state in just three years. Then they dumped it after seven and for the first time in almost 12 years there is a 750 million dollar surplus. Those that were covered are Medicaid covered now. It was cheaper to pay the fines for dumping it.

We go UHC then you can expect major problems and it wont be from without it will be from within.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

Randy - here in the commie state of Britistan we pay around 7.5% of GDP for our healthcare, the vast majority of it to the state in the form of taxes (although you can certainly go private if you want). In the US you pay about double that for a system which has massive administration costs, a fair slice of the population either under or uninsured, and far higher drug costs. Don't thick of UHC as a problem, just think of it as a very large health insurance scheme.

Our NHS is certainly not perfect(especially with our stupid politicians interferring at every turn),but how come all us 'socialist' states spend less than the US on healthcare but get just as much or even more for our money?

I think that the StairbustA is a great idea. When I worked in a hospital, we had a fabric thing with some straps attached stored in the office which we were supposed wrap around patients and drag them out in the event of a fire - lets just say the we were very glad we never had to put it to the test.

This is a product which would be suited, but not limited to, situations where the safe and rapid evacuation of non-ambulant elderly or disabled persons is crucial, for example, a fire scenario in a nursing home, hospital, community centre, library, etc.

From a design standpoint, it would seem to me that the whole concept of trying to carry out a "safe and rapid evacuation" of such persons is fraught with complexity and failure risks. This is an elegant device. The thought of a traffic jam in the stairwell when several of them tangle is inelegant.

Far better, instead of spending design and deployment dollars on evacuation mechanisms, to instead drive down the risk of remaining in place.

Fire is obvious. Use noncombustible materials and furnishings. Build in passive sprinkler systems. Provide ways for patients to shelter in place, behind fireproof doors, with operable windows. And drill the response teams rigorously.