MEC conducts helpful experiment in Philippines
By Cpl. Isis M. Ramirez
| U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific | January 10, 2013
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii --
Typhoon Bopha hit the Republic of the Philippines in early December, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people. Weeks after the devastating event, those who survived the super typhoon are still suffering the effects Bopha left in its path.
Homes were destroyed and electricity was interrupted, leaving many communities in the Philippines without a clean water supply. But the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Experimentation Center (MEC) was able to provide relief to the area.
“This is an experiment with a purpose,” said Shujie Chang, professional engineer and director of the MEC, referring to water purification systems currently providing relief to devastated areas in the Philippines. “The primary purpose is gathering feedback, but at the same time, it’s helping humanity because it’s producing water, which is actually very much in need after a disaster. Saving lives, alleviating human suffering and maintaining human dignity - those are all the things that humanitarians want to do.”
The MEC experiments with technologies that are applicable to the Marine Corps and U.S. Pacific Command in order to gather operational feedback. They are also the executive agent for science and technology collaboration between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PACOM.
“We have an agreement to experiment with technologies that we bring to the Philippines to gather operational feedback,” Chang said. “The venues are usually in exercises such as Balikatan and PHIBLEX. We’ve identified that a good venue is also putting technologies in a real-world mission to gather feedback.”
While they were in the Philippines at a planning conference solidifying just how they would continue their experiments during Exercise Balikatan 2013, that real-world mission arrived.
After receiving the warning order concerning Typhoon Bopha, known as Typhoon Pablo by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, on Dec. 5, Frank Duran, a MEC project manager who specializes in water, prepared to train the AFP soldiers in using the water purification systems left behind after Exercise Balikatan 2012. The systems were provided to the MEC by the Office of Naval Research, Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center and Office of Secretary of Defense. The AFP deployed the water purification systems to Davao two days later. From Davao, they were transported to other nearby communities heavily impacted by Bopha.
“We went around and around and we finally found (a water source) in the school,” Duran said. “The school was damaged completely, but we found a place where people were taking showers. The water was coming from the mountains. They put a pipe from the mountains coming down, so it was [relatively] clean water.”
Duran’s team used the water the local community was funneling down from the mountains as a more clean water source to purify. He said his team was out in the dark, using flashlights to assemble and learn the operations of the system.
By Dec. 10, there were three teams producing potable water in Baganga, New Bataan and Bry Laak, Tagum City. Inaccessible roads, fallen bridges and lack of phone coverage kept the team in Baganga from providing feedback to the MEC. Finally, on Dec. 14, MEC received news that the Aspen 2000 water purifier was having operating issues. The water team in Bry Laak was sent to aid in Baganga.
Today, two systems are still producing potable water for the victims of the super typhoon. It is unknown how long the local communities will need the purification systems, but as they continue to use them, the MEC will continue gathering feedback.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to gather long-term feedback,” Chang said. “We know the purification units work up to a couple of weeks. The question is do they work for a whole month and beyond without maintenance associated. Right now, we don’t have a field service support representative, just the AFP soldiers out their running the machines, so this is a good indication of whether they can do it on their own or not.
“By having a science and technology experimentation program, it allows us to gather the operational feedback, it also allows us to build regional partners with our Philippine allies and it helps humanitarian efforts.”