The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 13, 2014

Students design shelter for use after disasters

PITTSBURG, Kan. — When Austin Leake was a child, he built things out of Legos and designed his own treehouse. Cody Frieden traveled abroad for mission trips and helped repair flood-ravaged homes in the U.S.

Now, the two Pittsburg State University senior construction engineering students have teamed up to design and build something that has global applications during or after a disaster: a rapidly deployable transitional disaster shelter.

The project is serving a dual purpose. It counts as their senior project in the School of Construction, and next month they will compete nationally in the 2014 World Vision/John Brown University Disaster Shelter Design Competition.

“The competition’s focus this year is to design something that could be used by refugees such as the Syrians who are fleeing from their country,” said Leake, an Independence, Kan., native.

An estimated 6.8 million people have been forced from their homes in war-torn Syria, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 2 million refugees — three-quarters of them being women and children — have sought safety and shelter in neighboring countries.

Architects and design experts worldwide have begun addressing the situation with their own solutions. A few months ago, for example, Ikea, the Scandinavian flat pack furniture maker, unveiled an easily deployable solar-powered shelter designed in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Leake noted that deployable shelters could be used in other ways, too — including post-earthquake in Haiti and post-tornado in Joplin, Mo.

“It has to be the kind of thing that a group could ship in, people could set up quickly and easily, and it would provide immediate shelter,” he said. “Then in a year, if it isn’t needed any longer, it could be taken down and reused someplace else.”

The competition’s parameters are many:

• The shelter must accommodate a family of four.

• It must have a head clearance of at least two meters for 70 percent of the floor space.

• It must cost no more than $1,500 to produce.

• It must weigh less than 440 pounds.

• It must be able to withstand an earthquake.

• It must be able to withstand rain and sustained winds of 50 mph.

• A person with no construction experience must be able to assemble it and disassemble it in no more than an hour using no power tools.

Since January, Leake and Frieden, a Lamar, Mo., native, have brainstormed, conducted research, searched online for parts and costs, completed modeling using a computer aided drafting program, and begun fabrication.

On Thursday, the two were joined by volunteer Cody Wilkins, a senior in construction engineering from Webb City, Mo., in attaching metal strapping to 8- by 6-foot panels to be used in their shelter.

They created the panels out of Low-E reflective house wrap with a high insulation value and then edged them with lightweight steel channeling. Completed, they weigh just 17 pounds. But Leake, who stands 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 215 pounds, demonstrated that they can support his full weight.

The students will connect the panels with spring-loaded hinges to form a hexagonal shelter with a pitched roof.

“We designed it so no tools are necessary at all,” Frieden said as he demonstrated one of the hinges snapping into place. “We were thinking of using something like door hinges, but they have pins that can easily get lost, and you have to use a hammer to get the pins in them. We searched online and found these.”

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