By their very nature, refugee camps are improvisational, set up in haste to protect those fleeing political unrest, violence or natural disasters. And, as two architects discovered, in a shifting world of tents and temporary shelters, triaging and taking care of immediate problems often leads to a common oversight; proper flooring. Sleeping on cold ground or being stuck atop muddy earth can cause serious health problems for the world's refugees, and at worst, flash-flooding can cause further displacement. The issue inspired Scott Austin Key and Sam Brisendine, co-founders of Houston-based Good Works Studio, to create Emergency Floor, a sustainable, affordable solution they believe can deployed to camps across the globe.
"Camps are set up in a short amount of time to serve a lot of people," says Brisendine. "There isn't always time to think about incoming rains and watersheds. We wanted Emergency Floor to be as universal as possible, so it can be accommodating and not be specific to any one type of shelter."
Developed over the last three years after the two founders met at the Rice School of Architecture, Emergency Floor utilizes one of the few materials found at nearly every refugee camp: the wooden pallets used to transport food and supplies. The modular, plastic covering slides over the palettes and provides a simple and cost-effective way to create raised flooring, one that can be adjusted depending on the size of the temporary dwelling.
While it may not seem like the most pressing problem, aid workers in the field suggest flooding and poor insulation can be a serious issue. Tom Robinson, who works in Syria as Director for the Rise Foundation, said that many camps suffered from serious flooding in the winter, which led to displacement for hundreds of families and increases in respiratory-related diseases. More established camps are now laying concrete foundations to tackle the problem, but having a quick-fix during the initial set-up phase may have prevented issues and illnesses.
Emergency Flooring was recently named a finalist for the USAID's Development Innovation Ventures (DIV). To qualify for the $150,00 grant, they've started a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000. With recent reports suggesting no end to migration and refugee issues, Brisendine and Key believe there's a market, and true need, for a portable and cheap solution.
"It's like neighborhoods," says Brisendine. "Different suburbs get built different ways. We tried to create something with common sense."