Affordable, Stackable, and Sustainable Emergency Shelter


Exo 1 Michael McDaniel had witnessed many hurricanes growing up in Mississippi, but nothing came close to the destruction that Hurricane Katrina brought in 2005. Humanitarian responses were slow to start, very costly, and close to one million people were left homeless. This prompted McDaniel to begin developing his own innovative technology to ensure that people directly affected by disasters would be given a quick housing solution, which would allow them to start rebuilding their lives.

Many NGOs and humanitarian agencies provide housing alternatives during emergency relief projects. Many of these options consist of cheaply made tents that are not very durable, and are intended to provide shelter for only short periods of time. These shelters usually lack privacy, security, and access to water or electricity.

To combat the housing crises that inevitably arises after a disaster, either natural or man-made, McDaniel began developing what he now calls Exo Units. These housing units, which can sleep up to four people, are highly innovation. Their design was inspired by Styrofoam coffee cups, as they can be stacked on top of each other, and consist of a top and bottom, or what McDaniel calls a base and dome. Weighing just under 180 kilograms each, the Exo Units are easy to transport and assemble, which are essential factors when trying to quickly provide housing during an emergency.

After developing his prototype unit, McDaniel started Reaction Housing — a Texas-based company — so that the Exo Units could be made on a larger scale, tested, and ultimately used during emergency humanitarian responses.

Exo 4These Exo Units are innovative as they are extremely durable, cost-efficient, and simple to assemble. They can be stacked 20 high, which allows for quick and easy transportation, and can then be assembled in minutes. The shelters also have digital locks to ensure security, skylights, access to water and sewer systems, and are powered by portable generators, which provide air conditioning and the use of four electrical outlets. The four single beds can also be folded in when not being used, which allows for more living space during the day.

These elements allow people to have a much more dignified and accessible livelihood while coping with the aftermath of a disaster, and also allows for more sanitation access, which is often a difficult task to achieve during a disaster response. By using Exo Units, people are given a safe, clean, and secure home.

The units cost roughly $5,000 each, which is a much cheaper option compared to the trailers that were provided to people after Hurricane Katrina, which cost upwards of $20,000 each.

Reaction Housing has been raising money to ensure that their Expo units can grow from being just a prototype to being distributed worldwide to people left homeless after natural disasters. They have currently partnered with the Maram Foundation to provide Exo units to displaced families in Syria, and also send units to families in Haiti who are still living in temporary camps, nearly four years after the earthquake that destroyed their homes.

Exo 2The Exo Units, however, may not get the support it needs to take off as a viable resource during humanitarian responses. Many NGOs have been reluctant to use products from smaller and newer companies that do not have positive reputations and years of experience behind them; they are often skeptical of new resources. The risk of putting human lives in even more danger is something to consider when using new resources and materials that are not as well known. Without the support of NGOs who work in humanitarian responses, the Exo Units may not become a viable resource to be used.

For information about Reaction Housing and the Exo Units, you can visit their website.

The following video also explains how the Exo Units operate, and why they are innovative and important resources to use during emergencies.


Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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