sheltering for natural disasters

Sheltering For Natural Disasters

I’ve been mulling over the idea of designing a refuge shelter for mountain bike excursions for sometime now, and the thought process behind that has led me to think about designing shelters where the need is greater – a basic survival shelter to be used in the conflict zones or in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Natural (and Man-Made) Disasters

Natural disasters have caused mass destruction in 2010 and continue into 2011 with floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and landslides all having the devastating effect of displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Survivors of such natural disasters need to be immediately relocated and protected from the elements in order that they can be treated for injuries and against diseases.

As well as natural disasters, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are displaced due to warfare and conflict with the consequent need for refugee camps and medical facilities.

It can take weeks, if not months for supplies to reach disaster struck areas. Humanitarian efforts must work quickly with relief organization in providing immediate responses for emergency medical needs and working emergency shelter solutions.

Temporary hospitals, back-up power supplies, clean water, temporary relief roads must all happen immediately to prevent any chances of health epidemic outbreaks including cholera, TB, malaria, dysentery and water contamination.

This time last year, I was in conversations to see if I had the right skills to help prepare, plan and work in a team to co-ordinate an instant relief camp for the Haiti earthquake. The task would have been to help with the immediate planning layout for sheltering thousands of displaced people. And although I had to ultimately pass up the opportunity, that didn’t mean I couldn’t contribute my own thoughts as to how a standard platform for a future emergency shelter would take shape.

Once the location, structuring and planning of a relief camp has been proposed it must have to work quickly under the guidance of set regulations and requirements for the relief camp to take shape. Only once a safe environment and shelter has been provided can medical facilities and relief aid agencies really get to work with helping the victims.

Quickly Getting Relief To The Stricken Areas

One of the most important aspects of planning a shelter design is weight. Air transport is critical when supplying disaster relief organizations to provide immediate emergency medical care and acceptable standards for shelter solutions.

Aid relief will be restricted by payload amounts, making transport of low-volume, low-weight cargo an attractive solution for the future in achieving vast quantities of medical and emergency supplies in one drop to disaster areas.

Designing Tomorrows Emergency Shelter

So for an emergency shelter to be successful it must provide the greatest strength with the least amount of weight; be cost effective and extremely quick and simple to erect on-site.

Earth’s hostile zoning from the Antarctica to the Sahara shows it creates diverse weather conditions, so the form of a design needs to be a universal shape providing adequate protection against whatever extreme conditions that can be thrown at it.

Geodesic structures make the greatest strength-to-weight ratios possible in a self-supporting shelter. The weight of these structures is distributed evenly throughout the series of triangles in the structure. They enclose the most amount of space with the least amount of material. Since they have less area to lose heat from, they’re also very energy efficient.

We can take this structural form and prepare its design to a flat sheet format. Three sheets clicked together would create small, individual sheltering but by simply adding further sheets in modular form, larger spaces for the use in temporary hospitals, storage facilities and relief aid offices could be built as and when required. One sheet fits all. Nothing complicated.

Geodesic History

The first modern geodesic dome was designed by Dr. Walter Bauersfeld in 1922. Richard Buckminster Fuller obtained his first patent for a geodesic dome in 1954.

Geodesic domes are an efficient way to make buildings. They are inexpensive, strong, easy to assemble, and easy to tear down. After domes are built, they can even be picked up and moved somewhere else. Domes make good temporary emergency shelters as well as long-term buildings. Perhaps some day they will be used in outer space, on other planets, or under the ocean.

If geodesic domes were made like automobiles and airplanes are made, on assembly lines in large numbers, almost everyone in the world today could afford to have a home.

If you want to try the flat pack paper dome click on the link below and print it out. You’d be surprised how simple it all is.

Materials For A Flat Pack Shelter.

Flat pack geodesic domes produced in mass numbers would dramatically drop the production price and we are talking hundreds of thousands at a time that would need to be manufactured. It would have the benefits of being able to supply thousands of temporary shelters in one air-drop due to the minimal weight factor and volume and because of the high performing shape it would be capable in withstand earth’s hostile environment wherever it was located.

Future Materials To Consider.

VIP Insulation

VIP is an insulation product that is five to 10 times thinner than conventional insulation materials used in building (e.g. polystyrene, polyurethane, glass or mineral wool) with the same heat transfer co-efficient (U-value). VIPs have been successfully implemented in buildings for several years.

I’ve been watching the progression of VIP insulation in buildings now for about six years. Obviously in the beginning it was a new technology and came with a high price tag but now costs are dropping and production prices are becoming more affordable. The biggest current problem with VIPs is if it gets punctured it loses its thermal properties. In the near future VIPs will be sandwiched in durable material to prevent this damage.

I’m sure with a little experimenting VIPs can be manufactured to take on the flat pack Geodesic shape with pressed seems creating the fold lines to take form of the dome. (See image 1).

Advantage is thermal performance to weight. What with dehydration being a major killer in the heat and Hypothermia a killer in the cold this life-saving material can offer cool spaces where need be and can reverse its usage by offering a warm thermal blanket in extreme cold environments.

Nano Solar Technology

This is another product I’ve been following for a while. Wafer thin solar cells, lightweight, bendable, easily interconnected and easily adjusted in size.

Not only does the company propose that the cell will be produced at 1/10th the cost of conventional silicon solar cells but they are also eight times more efficient than the traditional solar panels we are using today. Its produced by large barrel printers on foil (sheets)… with the way technology is advancing, we’re probably not that far away from being able to roll these panels out to the flat pack shape. Geodesic form could be used for the emergency shelters outer shell.

As site planning prepares the relief camps these modular domes can be locally connected together in series so the domes become uniformly connected in accordance with the relief camp shelter layout and suddenly supplying a long-term power solutions once the world has forgotten about the disaster. We have to remember what might seem like inadequate power amounts to the west would be ample amounts to a relief camp.


Not that this should become a platform for how to green up low power demands for shantytowns but it does have to be seen that getting the effected disaster areas back on track takes longer than the expected and will offer the camp a consistent power source for its life span.

The world has to be honest and respect the fact the humanitarian relief camps are not going to vanish six months after they were erected.

These camps are going to become communities for years to come. You also can’t expect canvas and tarpaulin handouts to be the future for housing thousands of homeless families. The developed nations need to do more than just offer aid money in the beginning and then expect disaster victims to be living under plastic sheeting and cooking by kerosene for the next 10 years when the rest of the world forgets about them.

Although the idea might seem like an expensive solution today but tomorrow it could be the standard emergency survival shelter the world needs.

As Buckminster Fuller said, “If geodesic domes were made like automobiles and airplanes are made, on assembly lines in large numbers, almost everyone in the world today could afford to have a home.”

Words. Nick Chapple. Editor. Carlos Schtang.


2 thoughts on “sheltering for natural disasters

  1. Hi Nick,

    I came across your site via a Google search for “flat geodesic dome design.” Very impressed with your site design, layout, and content. I’ll be checking back to enjoy some of the content on here and dig a little deeper, but in the meantime I just wanted to say props on a great site and keep up the awesome work!


    • Thank you Ben, It’s really good to get feed back. I’m currently working on a new zero balance energy family house design. It’s taking all my time at the moment but will post up some fresh stuff this year! Cheers & Thanks

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