Design for Impact

After seeing the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, a designer at frog creates emergency housing.

Having grown up in Mississippi, 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, frog senior designer Michael McDaniel knows about the destructive power of hurricanes. When he was a boy, every summer and fall after a storm, he and his father would put a chain saw in the back of their pickup truck and help neighbors clean up felled trees and limbs off the roofs of their houses. They were far enough from the coast that the damage was never too bad.

Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005. By then, McDaniel had moved to Austin, and he (along with the rest of the country) watched in horror as the winds and water wiped away entire neighborhoods in New Orleans and along the coast, leaving thousands of people homeless. The images of families sleeping cheek by jowl on the floor of the Astrodome while fields full of FEMA trailers sat empty infuriated him, so he decided to do something about it.

A graphic designer by trade, McDaniel didn’t want to just design another poster. “There’s no use raising awareness of something everyone is already aware of,” he says. So he began to sketch out designs for highly portable, lightweight shelters. After working nights and weekends building a prototype in his backyard with materials found at the local hardware store, McDaniel came up with the Reaction Housing System, an emergency shelter that can be transported from a storage facility to a response site and be set up in a matter of hours.

Made of a patented, fully insulated plastic, each unit is climate-controlled, can sleep a family of four on bunk beds that fold down from the walls, and provides natural lighting along with several electrical outlets to charge cell phones, weather radios, and televisions. The units ship efficiently in two parts “like coffee cups and lids,” says McDaniel. The “lids,” or floors, hold up to 1,000 pounds of water or other ballast to keep the system anchored in case of additional heavy winds.

The patent-pending Reaction Housing System is ready to be deployed in the next hurricane or earthquake. We may not be able to prevent natural disasters, but with designs like McDaniel’s, we can be better prepared.