Doomsday Preppers: Small Business Edition

Sandless sandbags and cutting edge liquid metal batteries are some of the ideas floated in a competition to prepare NYC for climate disasters.

Doomsday Preppers: Small Business Edition
[Top photo: CTBTO Flickr]

Sandless sandbags–for quick and easy flood protection. A tube that tunnels daylight into a windowless room–in case of a blackout. Mesh networks that deliver Internet connectivity–even when the grid goes down.


These are some of the ways small businesses in New York City could soon find themselves preparing for the worst.

All are products or projects among 27 finalists competing to receive a piece of a $30 million pie that the city will distribute. The funds–the prize for winning what’s called the RISE: NYC competition–are earmarked for deploying technologies that will prepare business owners for future storms, sea level rise, and other climate change-related disasters.

The Solartube at the RISE demo night.

A demo night for the finalists was held earlier this month at 7 World Trade Center, high above the site of another disaster New Yorkers recall all too well.

The technologies showcased ranged from cutting-edge to the simple and practical.

Take Ambri, a venture-capital financed startup that is trying to commercialize a new kind of liquid-metal battery that it hopes will “transform the electric grid for the 21st century” (among investors, Bill Gates). It’s competing for funds that will allow it to install a system at a ConEd facility in Howard Beach, a removed neighborhood in Queens that was still dark weeks after Hurricane Sandy. The company’s system could provide limited backup power, but it is still an early-stage technology; Ambri’s Michael Kearny tells me it would be the company second commercial installation.

On the other end of the spectrum are the sandless sandbags. The flat and light sacks, filled with a polymer crystal that expands when it gets wet, have already been used all over the world as a replacement for heavy, bulky regular sandbags that are much more difficult to deploy en masse. Juliano Turina, who works with the North American distributor for the UK manufacturer, FloodSax, says they’d help small business owners quickly and easily protect their properties.


The specter of Hurricane Sandy loomed over the competition. The storm not only flooded homes, it damaged an estimated 20,000 small businesses in New York City. Some took weeks or months to re-open. Others never did.

New York City’s Economic Development Corporation expects to announce the winners of the competition later this year. You can see a full list of the finalists here.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.