by Breana Cronk, IQS Editor
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the island nation of Haiti on January 12, 2010 left in its wake a city in ruins. The capital city, Port-au-Prince, was reduced to rubble and residents found themselves searching desperately through the wreckage in hopes of rescuing loved ones. Equipment was needed to cut, spread, lift, pull and separate the tangle of concrete and rebar trapping victims. This machinery was powered by hydraulic pumps. The pumps work by creating pressure enough to move a liquid, often oil or water, through cylinders and hoses thereby creating mechanical energy. This energy is used to run generators, power excavators and hydraulic water pumps even provide water to the Haitian people.
Rescue workers in the United States have long known the power of the hydraulic pump, using them in various pieces of equipment such as spreaders, cutters and rams which extricate victims from mangled vehicles. Hydraulic pumps provide such a great amount of pressurized force that a car roof can be removed in as little as two minutes. These exceedingly basic and capable devices are easily used and maintained. The pumps operate by withdrawing a piston to create a vacuum that draws hydraulic fluids in past a check valve. When the piston is returned to its original position it pressurizes the fluids. This action is repeated until the pressure is great enough to pass through the discharge valve, providing the energy needed to put the equipment into action.
Image courtesy of Star Hydraulics, Inc.
Hydraulic pumps require an initial force before they can lift tremendous loads. Small motors are used to operate electric hydraulic pumps, though the name refers to those pump systems that generate energy as well. In Haiti where infrastructure is compromised, hydraulic hand pumps have become a more practical option. Powered by hand or foot pumps, these require no electricity and can still convert as little as 4.5 pounds of pedal force into 100 pounds of load moving force. The use of hydraulic pumps in Haiti, however, is not limited to small hand held devices. They are the driving force behind construction equipment such as backhoes, excavators, tractors, dump trucks and more. Each of these mechanisms is essential to the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts of the Haitian people.
Images courtesy of Star Hydraulics, Inc.
While the hydraulic pumps are imperative to the removal of damaged buildings, their use is not limited to this phase of relief. Pump powered construction equipment will be in high demand in Haiti long after the debris has all been cleared. At that point, the machines tractors, backhoes, cranes and other heavy duty hydraulic machinery will be used to rebuild Port-au-Prince and outlying cities. Today in Haiti hydraulic pumps lift the concrete, lift the rubble; months or years from now, when the city of Port-au-Prince is ready to re-build, the pumps will raise the bridges, raise the buildings and raise the hopes of the Haitian people.