This site shows my humanitarian and social design portfolio. I do process design, so optimisation of social and humanitarian processes, through system design and product design. I strive for Efficiency of humanitarian actors, through a needs based approach. I research, teach and talk about that.
humanitarian, process design, product design, social design, Frankfurt, international, German design, humanitarian Innovation, Germany, Human Centered design, community centered design, Thomas Jäger, design portfolio,
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The international Urban Search and Rescue (USaR) sector is currently relying on local capacity building. This is justified by the immense effort that has to be made to fly in international teams on-demand and the resulting time lag. This can be intensified by various factors. Local first responders are trained and nations are encouraged to train teams. An efficient expansion of this approach would be to expand civilian capacities as well.

The situational knowledge, the expertise, and a large number of civilians are now used through the usaer concept. They should be included as active actors in the course of the mission. Your rescue initiatives, which are already taking place, are now to be professionalized. Professionalization means the rescuers‘ own safety and the effectiveness of their help. By means of a comfortable offer of knowledge transfer and the provision of what is needed for rescue and self-protection, this succeeds in disaster areas, as well as in conflict areas thanks to the concept that also functions confidently.


usaer is a social initiative empowering civilians to rescue victims buried under rubble in conflict and catastrophe-prone areas. Citizens are on the frontlines yet unable to respond at the most urgent moment. By cooperating with governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) civilians will be trained in rescue first aid and be equipped with the tools to take life-saving action, impacting response time and fight for survival.

The kit contains everything needed to stay protected and rescue others. It consists of a foldable helmet that holds a two-sided, color-coded bag, filled with first aid material and tools.

The helmet is based on insect armour in its aesthetics and function. The former symbolizes protection while the latter inspires the flexible mechanism. The base of the design consists of two identical padding elements used for a compliant mechanism. These elements allow the helmet to be expandable and compressible, adapting to various head shapes and sizes, without being adjusted. It can be compressed to 110mm in width with the kit enclosed, allowing for logistical efficiency.

The easy repairability of the helmet is a unique aspect. Other helmets have to be replaced in their entirety if damaged, which is not sustainable. The usaer helmet can be repaired and all parts separated from each other. Oversized screws guide the users. The design is globally applicable but provokes local adaptation through its open design. A non-slip skin with an elastic net that allows users to secure various needed items.

catastrophe prone areas

The sector of Urban Search and Rescue is a national and international network of Actors conducting missions to rescue victims buried under rubble. These emergencies are either caused by natural disasters or man-made disasters, like explosions or terrorist attacks. Shortly every catastrophe, guided by the UN ( INSARAG), coordinated by LEMAS, (local emergency management authorities), and conducted by professional urban search and rescue teams, they locate people under the rubble, extract them, treat them and clean up the debris. They are supported by local actors not especially trained in urban search and rescue, but educated to be assistants. This can be the police or firefighters. The civilians also help though they are not properly integrated with the rescue efforts.  Currently, they run on the pile of rubble hoping to rescue their loved ones, without having the knowledge or tools to do so.

conflict areas

Other scenarios that cause people to get victims of the collapse of buildings are conflicts. Here the bombardment destroys the buildings.

Even though there are similarities to catastrophes, here the phenomenon gets increasingly complex. Political parameters and the protection of professional NGO staff don’t allow them to enter the conflict zone. Nevertheless, houses collapse frequently due to the ongoing bombardment. Society gets shaken up out of the pure fear of dying in the conflict. Corruption is thriving. The infrastructure decreases continuously. All in all a desperate situation. Mostly the only people someone can get rescued by, without fearing to be utilised as a new soldier or similar roles, are the neighbours and other civilians. If they can’t rescue someone the chances of survival are low.

The unutilized

Both cases highlight the importance of the incorporation of civilians in the rescue efforts. These civilians are not educated enough to go for dangerous tasks of locating and extracting victims. They don’t have the rescue tools either.

Nevertheless, they are an important force in the survival fight and have valuable capacities. They are educated in professions that positively contribute to the rescue results. Being educated in management, the medical field, or simply being a craftsman are all important expertise that can be utilised.

Furthermore, they have the biggest drive to rescue the victims even if alone. They are their friends, neighbours and family. But until now they endanger themselves, the mission methodologies, and the people they rescue.

Civilians a huge capazity
by numbers

The onset of a disaster affects big areas. An area of multiple square kilometers affords a lot of labour to firstly free the streets that professionals can arrive, establish temporary services, rescue the victims, collect information and clean the debris. This means that a lot of helpers are needed. Civilians are the biggest local group. On every professional rescuer, there are multiple civilians, that with their numbers can make a big difference in the efforts.

72 hours

Civilians are imediately

The chances of survival, while being buried under rubble are depending on a variety of parameters. The injuries of the victim, their access to air and water, their location in the rubble, and many more can make the difference between life and death. The overarching parameter is time. The quicker rescuers start with their efforts the higher the chances of survival get. In professional USaR the golden 72 hours square is identified to be the time window in which there are relatively high chances of survival. This means that local, national, or international rescuers‘ best case arrives as soon as possible. Depending on the local and national capacities this can be very quick. Nevertheless, this can be also compromised to only international rescuers arriving which could potentially take days due to unforeseeable circumstances. One group of people that is immediately on-site are the civilians, who can directly start rescuing. 

Already part of the methodology, but not activated

Professional rescuers partly value civilian efforts highly. Also, the response framework includes them partially. Nevertheless, they are loosely integrated. There are no certain roles defined for them besides personal preparation and protection. There are little efforts to train them out of the fear of them endangering themselves even more. Which is an oxymoron. They endanger themselves anyway trying to rescue, which no one will change. The question is how to make their efforts better.

Their potential role
after disarsters

Looking at the different steps inside and outside a mission allows to identify which steps can be done by civilians without endangering themselves, but still, contribute highly and at which point they could be trained and equipped. Looking at the response cycle mission internally and externally show that they can be prepared utilised and be part of the mission, till professionals arrive. They can map out the area, collect information, and rescue victims that are possible to rescue without huge danger and little tools needed. They can also clean up the debris, support the professionals and give medical service.

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What can they do
and what can't they do

Another way to identify possibilities of incorporating the civilians is to look at the different kinds of rubble accumulations. There are generally speaking safer ones and less safe ones. Most rubble piles outside of buildings are much safer to be searched. At least these can be done by civilians that are initially left to fend for themselves.

What information can civilians collect in advance to the arrival
of professionals

A well-executed mission coordination is enabled with having quantitative and qualitative data and information. Therefore big efforts are going into mapping out the area, prioritisations or locating hazards. This information should be collected as soon as possible. The quicker this is done the quicker professional rescuers can start efficiently conducting the mission. Civilians already know many of the things to find out, due to their contextual knowledge. Others can simply gather by interviewing or photographing. Again others could be collected by them through technological support, like tracking apps. In case the information is gathered by civilians they are quickly available for professionals.


usear's scope of empowerment

Looking at all these potential positive contributions of civilians to the rescue efforts, it becomes clear that these are chances to improve the fight for survival. usaer aims to do so. It focuses on the potential of the incorporation of civilians and improves their efforts. It is not trying to make them professional rescuers, or even local first responders. It aims to increase their capabilities to a degree that they become an even more valued player in the rescue efforts supporting the professional rescuers, but educates and equips them in a way, that even in scenarios where they are left to fend for themselves they still can rescue more people than currently themselves.



Making the civil intitaives more efficient and safe

All in all, usaer holistically empowers civilians to be valuable actors in the rescue efforts. It provides knowledge, repetitive learning, and every physical item needed for protection. They dig victims out and give them medical support. This way their efforts get more efficient by means of more people quickly rescued, safer for the victims and the rescuers, and brings their work in line with professional rescue methodologies so they can effectively support them when they arrive. When it is confirmed that no professionals will come they are still prepared to continue their efforts.

The Kit

The kit mainly consists out of two components. A foldable helmet securing inside a two-sided bag, that contains further equipment.

This bag is compressed to the smallest possible space so that it can be stored in the helmet without taking up additional space.

If necessary, it can be pulled out of the helmet intuitively and, like the helmet, is immediately ready for use. Everything you need to save people can be found in the bag. Every civilian who is enrolled in the usaer program receives the same kits. This eliminates any advantage and ensures that the necessary resources are implemented in the context of large quantities. Instead of taking them out of context.

The kits content

UsaR requires protective clothing, at least high-quality essentials. Along with a safety vest and gloves, helmets should be provided which is the central element in the usaer kit.

The “super normal” tools can either be replaced or obtained globally depending on the context. They also represent a compromise between benefits, dimensions, and procurement costs.

Considering the extraction of buried victims, tools must be available to saw through steel reinforcement and to break and smash concrete. Large debris needs to be lifted and held high.

The usaer kit contains a crowbar with which concrete can be smashed and leveraging forces can be used to lift debris. There are simple lifting bags too that lift up to 200kg. A foldable hacksaw allows cutting through steel reinforcement.  Spray can and notepad should be sued to make notes. The kit contains a safety vest and work gloves for self-protection. Additionally, a simple first aid kit has everything needed for protection and medical help.

efficient logistic
and an implementation through local partners

The compliant mechanism built into the helmet is not only used to adapt to different head shapes and sizes. It also allows the helmet to be compressed. This allows it to be compressed to a width of just 11.0 cm.

Thus, it is extremely space-saving in transport as well as in storage at home. Conventional helmets, such as hard-shell helmets, are approximately 20 cm wide.

This means that the helmet is just half as wide as it is when it is folded up, despite the tools and bag supplied. And with a cardboard envelope as packaging, it can also be stacked.

This allows usaer to send the kits directly to civilians or local partners in an efficient manner.


An adaptation of
insect armor

The helmet is based on insect armour in its aesthetic and function. The former symbolizes protection while the latter inspires the flexible mechanism. The base of the design consists of two identical padding elements used for a compliant mechanism. These elements allow the helmet to be expandable and compressible.

Helmets generally protect through hard shell and cushion elements. So does the usaer helmet. The outer and inner geometry of this complements their geometries in such a way that the largest possible areas are directly upholstered.

This way the helmet is protecting but still flexible and further can be decoded by the users, globally, as a protecting element.

A compliant mechnism

The compliant mechanism built into the helmet is not only used to adapt to different head shapes and sizes. It also allows the helmet to be compressed. This allows it to be compressed to a width of just 11.0 cm.

Thus, it is extremely space-saving in transport as well as in storage at home. Conventional helmets, such as hard-shell helmets, are approximately 20 cm wide.

This means that the helmet is just half as wide as it is when it is folded up, despite the tools and bag supplied. And with a cardboard envelope as packaging, it can also be stacked. In emergency humanitarian missions, the logistical component is a crucial factor in deployment.

QUick usage in an emergency

The usaer helmet should fit people of all ages, genders, or ethnicities. It is therefore designed to fit both 5th percentile women and 95th percentile men. The compliant mechanism of the upholstery makes it possible. It gives the helmet literal and visual adaptability to the physics of the user. It can be compressed and expanded in width and length without adjusting the size. It automatically adapts t head shape and size. The flexible belt makes adjustment even easier. The symmetrical design intensifies a quick usage.

This is necessary considering that it should be ready for immediate use in an emergency and that a process of adapting can be time-consuming, or that helmets cannot be worn properly.

on-site reperations

usaer helmets can be implemented more sustainably than conventional helmets. The design did not include hinges or the like, which would allow a folding mechanism, but instead used the flexibility of the upholstery with the appropriate geometry as a flexible mechanism.

The entire construction stabilizes itself. In order to be secured, however, oversized screws were attached to each of the 5 sub-elements. By choosing plastic screws with the enlarged slotted head, coins or other flat objects can be used to loosen or fasten the screws.

These are the only connecting elements that cannot be attached manually by simply pushing them in or hanging them with your fingers. There are also strong indications for these connections, by means of cutouts.

If the helmet takes a blow, parts can be replaced directly by the user instead of the entire helmet. Thanks to the accompanying cooperation with usaer, spare parts can be delivered directly on site.

open design for
local adaptation and

The design of the helmet is open to local adaptations so that it fits local context. No explicit fastenings for helmet lamps or the like are applied. It has non-slip surfaces, users can attach inside that gives benefit and reliability in the respective context. The outer silicone-like layer is smooth and non-slippery. It is further combined with the elastic, coarse-meshed net which enables almost any object to be attached, e.g. inexpensive flashlights or smartphones can be used as helmet lights. Power banks, smartphones, or even sensors, which are currently becoming smaller and more cost-efficient, will also find their place here in the future. This way, it ensures that the demands are met. The emphasis on these areas is reinforced as an indication by the perforation, which actually serves to make the material conformable.

To keep the helmet as compact as possible, these areas have cutouts that represent cable ducts. Fix the cables off, e.g. power banks compactly so that they are safe.

Being visible,
but just when wanted

In disasters, the protective equipment should make rescuers noticeable. In conflicts areas, however, this can be quite disadvantageous as a noticeable appearance can create problems for rescuers.

Usaer helmets enables both. A safety vest is easily located on user’s body and can quickly be removed and carried on body. Along with self-protection, it gives an authoritative look to the user who is differentiated to other civil responders. It generates trust and respect from people.

Users can remain undetected in a conflict area by simply removing the safety vest. The helmet, therefore, meets the requirements in both situations.

the Bag inside
the helmet

The bag is divided into two parts. One area is reserved for tools and the other for first aid. These are color-coded so that users can quickly find their way around. The white, clean side contains the bandages and is perceived as hygienic.

The black side of the bag contains the tools, which are contaminated with the dirt from the recovery site. Black and white provide great contrasts even when working in the dark.

Once the bag has been removed from the helmet, it can be carried directly and used in an emergency. So that it is intuitive to use and can therefore be learned quickly, the UX was based on a school folder. It is like leafing through a magazine and is supported by color-coding. The openings of the bag itself are without a direct closure and kept simple. This reduces the time required to remove what is required. Nevertheless, the objects are held securely inside, as the large “lids” enclose the entire bag.