Rescue Boat Designed by Students Aids Local Flood Victims

Team R-AID
Left to right: David Foster, A. Mohammad Abbas, Professor Medhat El Nahas, Usama Javed, and Smiraj Pillai. Team member Binh Tran is not in photo.

It has become a fact of life in and around Houston, Texas. Rising floodwaters force residents to evacuate from their homes; and at times, the emergency response and rescue boats that help stranded people to escape safely from hard-hit areas are limited. As a capstone project, recent mechanical engineering technology graduates, David Foster, Mohammad Abbas, Usama Javed, Smiraj Pillai, and Binh Tran designed a prototype for a high water rescue vehicle, an idea that came to them last year after the occurrence of the flash flooding in Houston during the Memorial Day holiday.

The members of Team R-AID, which stands for Rescue-Aid, were driven by their passion to serve the Houston community - worth just as much or more to them than simply completing the requirement for their capstone project.

"Typical water rescue boats can cost thousands of dollars, so our goal was to design an affordable vessel that could be easily fabricated and made readily available for emergencies," said David Foster, team leader. "We wanted to make sure that it was easily and quickly transportable, knowing that this is a challenge for rescue operations." The team invested about $800.00 to make their boat.

Tested and registered with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the boat designed by Team R-AID can fit in the bed of a pickup truck and has the capacity for one person to drive it to a victim’s aid with room for up to two passengers. “The boat is designed to operate in shallow to deeper water while remaining stable to withstand wind and currents. It is particularly useful for rescuing stranded people on tops of cars submerged in the flood waters,” Foster said.

The team’s timing and foresight for their finished product were spot on. Houston and the surrounding areas were hit again with historic flooding April 18 2016, with some areas seeing 15 to 20 inches of water over a 72-hour period. Eager to put their innovation to work by helping people in need of rescue, Team R-AID loaded the boat on their truck the very next morning, traversing several flood prone areas before arriving to a neighborhood near Grant Road in Cypress, Texas where flood waters reached 8 to 12 feet due to its proximity to Cypress Creek.

"We noticed that several rescue boats could not easily maneuver into the flooded areas and had trouble getting their equipment onto trailers quickly enough. So, when an emergency medical services crew encountered problems with their boat, we jumped at the opportunity to help an elderly woman who was trapped in her home," Foster said. "We wheeled the boat into a flooded street, found the woman’s home surrounded by about eight feet of water and nearly two feet of water inside, and then helped her and two dogs out of the house and safely into the boat".

When Foster told the emergency crews and neighborhood residents that the boat was a project for his class at UH, they were impressed. "I am grateful for that special opportunity to have represented UH and the College of Technology and to make a valuable contribution to our community at the same time," he said.

"The fact that this team was able to design, build, test, and then fully validate a project that resulted in saving lives is a perfect example of how our innovative students develop their engineering knowledge and emerge with admirable values that make the future''s top-notch technologists," said Dr. Medhat El Nahas, mechanical engineering technology professor.

Watch the Cypress Creek rescue video: UH MET Senior Design Team R-AID Rescue Video