TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Engineered Blankets Reach Disaster Victims

Engineered Blankets Reach Disaster Victims

Bruce Smith (
Sun, 4 Dec 2005 21:43:55 -0600

By BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press Writer

A lightweight, non-woven blanket engineered by a South Carolina
company is keeping disaster victims dry and warm from the Gulf Coast
to the mountains of Pakistan to the tsunami-ravaged areas of Southeast

The blanket developed by the Polymer Group Inc. is warmer than
traditional blankets woven of cotton or wool. One side is soft and
provides comfort next to the body; the other has a backing to provide
a barrier from moisture, dirt and debris.

Unlike other blankets, the "All Day, Every Day" blanket sheds water so
it dries more quickly and needs less water to clean, an important
feature in disaster areas.

"These people are typically out of their homes and are sitting on the
ground in an open environment," said Cliff Bridges, a spokesman for
the company's Chicopee division, which makes the blankets. "The last
thing you want to do is wrap yourself in a product that is going to
hold water because water is probably the biggest vector of bacteria
and fungus, which can cause disease."

Polymer Group is among the world's largest manufacturers of non-woven
materials used in everything from baby wipes to packaging materials.

It had about $850 million in sales last year, operates 21 plants in 10
countries and employs 3,200, according to the corporate Web site.

Polymer Group was developing a blanket for emergency medical use when
Church World Service asked whether the company could develop a
covering that could be used in disasters in tropical areas.

Polymer worked for several months with Church World Service, a relief
ministry of 36 denominations, said Rick Augsburger, the agency's
deputy director.

"We feel what we have come up with is an extremely useful and
versatile blanket that provides great comfort to people who have lost
everything," he said.

Over six decades, the agency has shipped millions of blankets to
disaster areas worldwide where a simple blanket is important.

"It's protection," Augsburger said. "It's heat and warmth, and it's
also a comfort."

Because Polymer's blanket is about a third the weight of a traditional
wool blanket, relief agencies can ship more for the same cost.

The company was working on that blanket about the time of last year's
massive tsunami, and thousands were shipped to Southeast Asia and
again to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The new coverings
were distributed to people evacuated to the Astrodome in Houston.

The Polymer Group itself has donated tens of thousands of the
blankets, which are not for sale to the general public.

"We're at the point now where we're trying to produce as much of this
as we can," said James Schaeffer, the company's chief executive
officer. "We would have donated more to Pakistan, but we didn't have
more on hand. We shipped most to the tsunami and Katrina."

The company is developing a new blanket with a thin coating of
aluminum applied to the backing.

The coating reflects the sun's ultraviolet rays, keeping disaster
victims cooler in warm weather. Earthquake victims on a cold mountain
side can reverse the blanket so the coating acts as an insulator,
retaining body heat. A disposable heating pad can be used for more
warmth, Bridges said.

Those blankets are not yet available, but next year Polymer will
unveil them at trade shows in the United States and Europe. The
company has not announced a price.

Schaeffer said the company is planning how many of the blankets it
will produce next year. If next year is like this one, the demand will
be high.

"It's been an unprecedented year of need," Bridges said.

On the Net:

Polymer Group Inc.:
Church World Service:

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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