Seeking Refuge: One Organization is Transforming Emergency Shelter




It all boils down to cost. There are raised flooring systems readily available, but nothing is affordable enough for mass implementation. We worked backwards from affordability…and focus exclusively on the provision of clean, dry flooring…for less than $2 per square foot.” – Scott & Sam, Good Works Studio


ScottSamInShelterWith the expertise of the UNHCR and a partnership with Better Shelter in their back pockets, two graduates from Rice University are finalists vying for a $150,000 USAID grant that would allow them to realize their goal of raising the standard for long-term emergency shelters. Their innovative flooring system has been featured at the International Disaster Conference and Expo, has been featured in publications by Engineering for Change and Rice University, and has been tested in Sweden.

Eager to roll out two new pilot projects in Nepal and Iraq, Scott Key and Sam Brisendine are looking to raise $50,000 to qualify their innovation, aptly named Emergency Floor, for the grant that would contribute to further R&D, scale up production, and get their shelter to those that need it.

Where disaster or conflict hits, sanitation, shelter and sustenance are often among the top causes of concern and the quickest causes of death and disease. These issues worsen when conflicts go unresolved and temporary camps become permanent villages that inadequately house hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaces persons for years on end.

Emergency shelters come in all shapes and sizes but a common problem in long-term dwellings is dealing with the health implications that result from flooding and contaminated grounds.  Scott and Sam recognize the urgent need for better shelter and Emergency Floor was born out of a commitment to address it.


Local Materials


EmergencyFloor_1Emergency Floor is a project from Good Works Studio, a Texas-based social enterprise founded by Sam and Scott. The product is a raised flooring system that lifts people off the ground and away from dirt, water, and disease. Modeled after children’s play mats, the flooring is comprised of interlocking mats made up of two components: a re-purposed shipping pallet as a base and a vacuum-formed plastic “cap” that is composed of 100% post-consumer plastic.

Over the last 3 years, the design has been refined to meet the goal of creating a flooring system that could be developed using local materials that are readily available. According to Sam, “the “cap” is deep enough so that a variety of [types of] insulation can be accommodated under the floor.” The use of shipping pallets is exceptionally efficient, given the sheer number of them that are often left behind by those transporting relief supplies to the area in need.

In an interview, Sam noted that the air gap beneath the floor modules, in combination with user-supplied insulation, provides a thermal separation between the ground and those living atop it, which is particularly crucial for those living wet or cold climates.

There are numerous companies that manufacture rugged, affordable shelters for emergency situations, but, according to Sam, what sets Emergency Floor apart is the innovation’s modularity. It is intended to fit within any other pre-formed shelter, and Scott and Sam have, through the UNHCR, teamed up with Better Shelter, a company that has been developing a new refugee shelter that has been recently officially launched. According to Scott, “part of their model has always been to incorporate “accessories” developed by third parties into their shelter. Our partnership has been in that vein.”


Social Enterprise


efloorTheir experimental project in Sweden gave the team great insight into the shipping and logistics of their project, and they have since reduced the size of the system in order to maximize benefits while keeping costs low. They are aiming to produce the flooring for $2 per square foot, making it affordable for the organizers implementing them. The Sweden project did not involve live-in families, but having passed the first stages of testing, they are ready to move forward.

Equipped with a solid design and a partner specialized in emergency shelter development, the team is ready to launch their beta units and are prepared to roll out pilot projects for residents Nepal and Iraq. Given that “both countries experience varying degrees of harsh winters and are experiencing a huge need [for] winterized shelters” situating their beta projects in these locations will allow the innovators to test their project’s viability and impact in real time conditions.

Scott and Sam are finalists in the USAID  Development Innovation Ventures grant competition, “an open competition supporting breakthrough solutions to the world’s most intractable development challenges.”[1] The pair has launched an Indigogo crowdsourcing campaign. To qualify for the grant, the pair must raise $50,000 and apply by July 24th. With funds raised through their social enterprise, Good Works Studio, and armed with an arsenal of experience in construction, engineering and architecture, Scott and Sam are well on their way, having already raised over $20,000.

They have ensured that Emergency Floor is painlessly easy to install, is composed entirely of recycled materials, and will drastically improve the health and lives of those that find themselves reliant on emergency shelter.  They already have a wide network of organizations waiting to get involved and are counting on you to help them realize their vision for a healthier alternative to shelter.

Please contribute to their cause and help them reach their goal of giving camp residents a cleaner life and a better chance at survival. To donate, click here. Find them on Twitter @EmergencyFloor or on Facebook.





Sarah Anstett

Sarah Anstett

Sarah is a writer, researcher, and development practitioner currently based in Toronto, Canada.

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