04.04.149:15 PM ET

Mothers of Invention: Day One’s Alchemy

Addressing one of the most-pressing issues of disaster relief, Tricia Compas-Markham gets it done. Elizabeth Barr reports from the Women In the World Summit in New York.

What began as Tricia Compas-Markman’s thesis at CalPoly has become a major, viable breakthrough in disaster relief. After a tsunami hit Japan and Katrina slammed the states in 2005, the then-civil engineering student began exploring methods for quicker and more-efficient means of delivering clean water to victims of disaster. She knew Proctor & Gamble had created a robust water-purifying system in a portable powder, yet gathering and transporting the water to those in need remained a challenge. “We didn’t reinvent the wheel,” Compas-Markman said of the Day One Response bag she created. “But we did make delivering clean water more efficient in a disaster situation.”

Compas-Markman is modest. During the Toyota Mothers of Invention series at the Women in the World summit on Friday, she explained her deceptively simple device. The bag holds 10 liters of water, which can be scooped up from any river, stream or other body of water, no matter how dirty it is. Drop in a packet of the P&G purifying powder and shake the plastic bag for about 10 minutes, and you have potable and portable water.

“In school, as civil engineers, we’re conditioned to believe we will go on to become consultants or work for governments,” Compas-Markman explained. “And I was offered a job after school, but it was 2008, the economy crashed and the job was rescinded. So I decided to investigate the business applications for the Day One bag.”

A trip to Haiti was also key in motivating Compas-Markman to scale the product. “I visited about a year after the 2010 earthquake and it was very eye-opening to see the conditions people were still living in,” she explained. “Our translator said that after the quake, he had to walk nine miles for just one liter of water. It wasn’t enough for himself, let alone his family.”

Day One Relief is now working with NGOs, militaries and governments. “Just 20,000 units can affect 100,000 people,” Compas-Markman said. And after visiting Haiti, she realizes she has the ability to save lives.