TOHL Mobile Infrastructure



When natural disaster or conflict strike in developing countries water supply is often times interrupted, adding additional burdens on those trying to assist the injured and maintain some semblance of order in the immediate aftermath. It could be that a primary source such as a centralized treatment plant or a well sustained damaged, or that transmission pipes are severed, cutting off entire communities. There are several conventional emergency response measures, including tanker trucks and the construction of provisional treatment plants and piping systems, though none of them are guaranteed effective due to the possibility of transportation challenges (e.g. blocked roads, collapsed bridges), a lack of locally available materials, not to mention the time required to coordinate and construct the provisional systems. In the earthquake that struck Nepal in April of 2015, some projects to transport water to affected areas took three weeks to become operable1. Another account says an army tanker delivered a fixed water supply to an aid camp just once a day, and that the supply was not nearly enough to meet demand2.



An Innovative solution for water supply in emergency situations


A new solution that has been getting some press in the last few years came about in the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. Bejamin Cohen, a civil engineering student at Georgia Tech, saw from media reports that there was a water crisis not because there were no sources of potable water, but because the transportation link between where the water was and where the people in need were was cut off. Inspired by this logistical challenge he and some classmates developed a novel yet simple technology that eventually became the basis for a new company, TOHL. Working with HDPE, a piping material known for its flexibility and durability, they came up with the idea to hang a large spool of coiled pipe from a helicopter fixing one end of the pipe to the ground and letting it unwind and lay above the terrain as the helicopter moves along its course. They named this concept “mobile infrastructure”.



Presentation of the pilot project testing




Because they needed to develop their idea and cobble together funding (which occurred through grants, tech competitions, and crowd funding) their initial pilot implementation took place in Chile rather than Haiti, due to the challenges that remained from the Earthquake. In Chile there were local partners willing to support the development of the pilot due to the country’s vulnerability to earthquakes and several remote communities. Watching the pilot implementation it’s surprising that something of this sort had yet to be developed. It is simple and low tech, and relative to conventional solutions accomplishes its task almost instantaneously, and can cover multiple types of terrain. The main application is for short term, since above ground piping is prone to tampering and damage, and also remote or rural areas in the long term if there is little risk of damage along the course.



Advantages compared to traditional pipelines




Mobile: The helicopter can transport the hose and reach any place quickly





4x4: The hose when rolled-out can pass through most types of terrain





Compact: When rolled-in the hose does not take space and can be easily transported.




Quick: The installation of this technology does not require any construction work and can be very rapidly deployed to connect water sources and the supply point.



It can reach up to several kilometers and TOHL claims the cost is just one fifth of traditional, fixed pipelines used in similar situations. Currently, TOHL has implemented its technology in Chile, Kenya, Nicaragua, Honduras, and is working on establishing a presence in the country where the original idea stemmed from, Haiti. Since the first pilot operation in 2011, the company has expanded its mission from solely temporary pipelines for emergency situations to the design and construction of traditional fixed pipelines, though the solutions are still targeted towards underserved geographies that suffer infrastructure deficits and a lack of skilled personnel to build and maintain water systems. Because of that they aim to work with the communities to develop all areas of the water management picture.


It is often in times of crisis or when extinction is imminent that survival instinct breeds innovation. It may surprise no one that in the water field two of the pioneering countries in new technology and methods are water stressed Israel and Singapore. This mobile infrastructure is an instructive example for water professionals, especially those who work on development projects or in disaster prone areas.  We should always be examining and reexamining methods to improve current practice, aiming for clever, inexpensive, and replicable solutions. If achieved, it can bring a positive impact to millions of people.




By Carter Franz

Freelance Water Consultant


Published on 2015-11-23 21:43:56

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