How empty crates could save us from flooding

Deborah Whittle
Deborah Whittle
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A MUM’S invention to combat flash flooding, inspired by a childhood game of building bridges out of plastic crates, has put her through to the finals of a national competition.

Deborah Whittle has designed a pop-up bridge, created from crates transformed into a platform and ramps, similar to a mini scaffolding tower, to form a temporary road, which could be used to save lives and aid rescues.

Deborah Whittle

Deborah Whittle

The Modular Raised Road design has earned the University of Sunderland student a place in the finals of the Environment Agency’s (EA) Flash Flooding Challenge: Improving Resilience.

The competition is for students and researchers from universities across the North of England to find innovative ideas to help communities at risk of flash flooding become more resilient.

Flash flooding has had a devastating on people’s lives this winter, particularly in the South, but the EA has identified 125 communities in the North as being at risk.

Deborah, from Cleadon, said: “I’m delighted to get to the final of the EA’s challenge. I’m surprised no one else has thought of a structure like this before now.

Deborah Whittle

Deborah Whittle

“With predictions that flash flooding could become more common, I think there could be a real need for the Modular Raised Road to be used to save lives and aid rescues.”

Deborah’s idea sees four plastic extrusions joined to form a cube, held together with tube hinge pins. The hinges will support up to 10-ton loads

Flat, it acts as a platform or walkway when clipped on to the top of the cubes, allowing most civilian vehicles, people, wheelchair users, as well as livestock, to be moved to safely. The honeycomb design allows the water to flow through it. It is slip resistant, lightweight and can be easily assembled and dismantled.

The inspiration came about two years ago when Deborah saw a driver become stuck in a flooded road near her home. She remembered the toughened plastic crates, carrying gas bottles, she used to play with and build bridges out of as a child in the yard of her parents’ builders’ merchant’s.

Deborah, mum to two boys aged 14 and 16, said: “When I saw this lady stranded in water, you couldn’t tell how deep the water was, where the kerb was or lifted manhole covers, and I thought ‘If only I had some crates and planks, I could build a bridge’.”

Deborah, who is studying applied business computing, will be presenting her concept at the Flash Flooding Challenge finals today at the University of Leeds.

Deborah’s programme leader, Dr Susan Jones, a senior lecturer in dgital media in the Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology, said: “Getting to the final of these awards is fantastic news. Deborah has done this all through her own efforts, and her success really helps us to demonstrate the calibre of our top-up students.

“She is incredibly entrepreneurial. She has the skills and the vision to see an idea and knows how to make it happen. Deborah already had knowledge from working in the construction industry and through her family’s builders’ merchant’s.”