Disaster Relief Goes Modular

OP RESIDENTIALBy Noel Maxam

According to the NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information, the United States has suffered more than 200 weather-related disasters since 1980 that have cost more than $1 billion, totaling approximately $1.2 trillion. But even then, analysts predict that these numbers are too low. These staggering numbers provide a window into the monumental suffering those in a disaster experience. How can the construction industry play its part in aiding disaster relief?

We know purpose-built structures and raw materials take too much time and effort to be effective. They take too long to ship and assemble, are quickly outdated as needs change rapidly and ultimately end up part of the problem as they must be demolished and disposed of in landfills.
In a perfect world, disaster relief products would be easily shipped and assembled, fit the unique requirements of each shelter or venue, be able to adjust quickly to the emergency as needs change, then either become a permanent part of the solution, ship out or recycle as easily as they are delivered.

Building Blocks

Imagine a solution that allowed disaster relief teams to quickly construct shelters virtually anywhere in the world with pop-up medical treatment centers, and privacy walls for victims impacted by tragedy. If you needed desks, checkpoints, privacy for medical treatment or interior walls that are movable and reconfigurable, on-demand modular construction would be the clear answer: One product meeting the needs of many, instead of many products meeting the needs of too few.

Imagine, the use of a new innovative building block technology in the on-demand modular construction process that can aid communities in the wake of natural disasters by making it possible to construct everything from temporary tables and storage lockers to permanent walls and interior structures, better, faster and cost-effectively with the use of building material that can be reused and reconfigured time and time again.
This construction technology represents a paradigm shift in the way we build and relate to the spaces in which we live and work. Lego-like blocks that can quickly and easily assemble into almost any structure desired, from benches to walls, and is reconfigurable within minutes. Even more, it is both a building material and a build process that speeds up construction immeasurably. You can quickly put up a 10 by 10 wall with insulation and finish in just one hour. This allows disaster relief and non-government organizations to rethink how we can make an impact during times of national crisis. These building blocks can fit compactly on a palette that is delivered within a fraction of the time of other modular construction solutions and can then be quickly be shipped or parachuted into disaster-afflicted areas. On-demand modular construction allows us to construct spaces, furniture and really whatever structure we might need by ourselves without expert measuring, cutting, or previous construction experience. Without the need for a professional, we can help shelters provide safety and privacy, families to get their households back up and running quickly after a disaster and help businesses speedily return to operations. Additionally, building blocks enable people to help themselves. With a simple screwdriver, anyone can create walls, privacy areas, shelters and a myriad of other uses without waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers or additional skilled labor, which can take weeks or even months. Like a razor and a razor blade, if a component is damaged, that piece is replaceable. Very rarely would you have to replace the entire unit. Medium density fiber panels and components used in this building block technology are made from milling byproducts such as pine sawdust and wood chips. Plastic ABS components include up to 50 percent post-consumer recycled material. Adaptive reuse yields sustainable environmental benefits and can be used over and over again. Working traditionally, modular construction allows designers to use existing pieces, plug-and-play with structures that are vintage, modern or anywhere in between. On-demand modular construction works with almost any specialized piece they’d need to source and prides itself on being an open-source building platform.

Empowering Helpers
The goal is to ensure the products can be mass produced within 500 miles of most major population centers in the United States. Additionally, manufacturing of these types of products can spin very close to any desired location within weeks, or even pull up trucks and manufacture at the relief site itself. On-demand modular construction empowers people to do the things they did before faster, easier and more economically. It also allows people to do what they couldn’t do before: When a structure is no longer needed or a new need is identified, on-demand modular construction simply changes and adapts or easily ships and stores.

When natural disaster strikes, building block technology can quickly provide cost-effective, reliable shelter, comfort and safety to families. Thanks to on-demand modular construction's sustainability, we can finally provide aid without causing adverse environmental effects. Most importantly, on-demand modular construction can help alleviate suffering for those that have lost their home or business infrastructure in a disaster.

Noel Maxam is the co-founder and CEO of Emagispace, an interior construction and design firm.

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