[Editor’s note: As the world’s events surrounding Covid-19 continue to unfold, Make: is providing its platform to community members to discuss projects and undertakings in this space. This column comes from Tikkun Olam Makers founder Gidi Grinstein. Have something to contribute? Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Corona tsunami is coming and it will test our societies to their limits as our healthcare, welfare, food security, and social safety nets will be strained to exhaustion in a time of a political crisis. In this moment of incredible upheaval, all of us must choose whether to be on the balcony or on the “dance floor.” This is our generation’s defining moment.
This is a call to action: If you can invent or make things then you must act immediately to be useful. And if you are an engineer or product designer who can operate a 3D printer — whether you are mid-career, student, or retiree — you have a significant role to play.
Your deployment date should be April 1! Models show that around then the pandemic will overwhelm hospitals in hotspot megalopolises like New York, and will then spill over to nearby areas like Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, and up the Hudson Valley. But, over time, it is the small communities, particularly the remote ones, with 25,000 residents or less, that may be decimated. With a handful of restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, and a post office, social distancing is particularly difficult to observe and medical services are basic. When these communities are hit, they will be hit hard.
At the same time, the opportunity to be helpful will present itself around April 1, when a critical mass of open-source solutions will become available online. Thousands of inventors and product designers have been co-developing makeshift protective gear, respirators, ventilators, and other crucial equipment across the USA and worldwide. Makers in countries like Israel, Chile, Serbia, and the Czech Republic are leaning in to create solutions, many of which will be ready or near-ready by the end of this week. In fact, in some places, such affordable products are already being manufactured and used to protect medical teams and save lives.
In a national crisis, government top-down intervention is “Plan A,” and mobilizing corporations to fill in gaps is “Plan B.” Both are happening, but may fall short in the face of an exponential challenge like the Coronavirus. As Dale Dougherty and Victor Hwang framed it: “we need a backup to the backup.”
This is “Plan C”: a broad grass-roots mobilization of Americans who ensure that no community is left behind. Plan C depends on a manifestation of the American spirit of bottom-up self-organizing leadership and activism. It requires people who can operate 3D printers to design and manufacture Corona solutions, and are willing to work to exhaustion in a national network of solidarity and care.
The open-source products that will emerge soon will need to be distributed across the United States. For that distribution, we need the “Maker Army.” As our ability to move around is being compromised and centralized production seems insufficient, distributed manufacturing can save the day. In other words, anybody who has access to a makerspace or can operate a 3D printer (or has one), can and should step up.
For the past 5 years, my team at TOM: Tikkun Olam Makers (tomglobal.org) has worked with 25 universities in the USA, Israel, and other countries to deploy teams of students who create affordable, accessible, open-source solutions for the neglected needs of people living with disabilities. In that journey, we have seen the tremendous potential that exists in and around campuses due to the passion and talent of students and faculty and their amazing facilities. There are about 750 campuses with engineering and design programs in the USA, educating hundreds of thousands of students and having alumni networks of millions of people. All of them can be the reserves of the reserves. All of them can be part of Plan C.
These students are now at home. Paradoxically, this is a huge asset for Plan C. Scattered across the USA, they can now create their local Corona-Response Teams and be part of the solution. Collectively, they can have a much greater impact now compared to when they were concentrated on campus.
So what can be done now to get ready? “TPNP”: First, Team: Build your small, skilled and nimble Corona-Response Team able to work remotely, and if you can fly solo, that’s great too. Second, Printers: Make sure you have a 3D printer and all necessary filaments and spare parts in a place where you and your team can securely access. Third, Needs: Verify local needs and priorities by talking to hospitals and treatment centers. Fourth, Products: choose the products you want to disseminate and then download and test the digital product files so that you can manufacture when the need arises.
Please get ready! Facing the Corona, divided we fall. United we stand.