In Case of Emergency, Add Water

Truck with filtration system is part of Duke’s emergency response arsenal

Duke's water filtration truck, which features a filter system mounted on a box truck, can pump out 2,400 gallons on drinkable water per hour.
Duke's water filtration truck can pump out 2,400 gallons on drinkable water per hour.

Five years ago, Duke University Hospital’s Disaster Medical Response Program was mulling the idea of buying a water filtration system and housing it in a trailer. If there was an emergency and clean water was hard to come by, it could be brought in to remedy the situation.

Fast forward to now and the result of that vision is parked behind a Duke warehouse on Golden Drive, quietly waiting to show off its capabilities.

In its water filtration truck, Duke has an asset that’s rare in the state’s disaster response system and could help keep essential facilities running in case of an emergency. The truck, built to be deployed with the field medical hospital and to support medical facilities within the region, has yet to be put in action. When called upon, the truck could pump out 2,400 gallons of potable water every hour. All the truck needs is somebody to set it up and a water source, such as the reclamation pond on West Campus.

“As long as you have a supply of water, you can clean it and make it into potable water,” said Duke Emergency Management Coordinator Jason Zivica.

It took around two years to go from an idea to a reality. To cover the roughly $140,000 to retrofit a former Duke Materials Management Department truck, Duke secured state and federal grants.

From the outside, the truck looks like a 27-foot white box truck that is part of the State Medical Assistance Team’s fleet. It’s not as massive as the big rig that can be converted into a field hospital or as eye-catching as the modified ambulance that can pull resupply trailers.

“With the way things are right now, you’ve got to get a little innovative with how use your stuff and make it work,” said Duke University Hospital Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Shaw.

But once the doors are opened, it’s clear that this Ford F-650 is different.

Two separate water filtration systems line each side of the truck’s rear. Nearby is a 1,200 gallon storage tank. Tucked elsewhere in the back of the truck are fold-out holding tanks, a portable dispensing station and a set of snap-on stairs.

Stowed away are generators, hoses, extra filters and hundreds of plastic bags designed to carry water by the gallon.

“This is a one-stop shop,” Zivica said. “… Once you set it up, you’ve got a fully operational system.”