October 24, 2009

Shelterbox: Providing Immediate Relief to Victims of Natural and Other Disasters

I recently attended a STAR-TIDES research demonstration at the Pentagon, located just outside of Washington, D.C. STAR-TIDES is an acronym for Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support, which is geared to organize inexpensive and effective solutions for humanitarian emergencies or post-war reconstruction. Several companies demonstrated fascinating technological products, which have an immediate impact in the developing world or in any humanitarian emergency. One such product is the Shelterbox, a large, rugged, green plastic container that holds a 10-person tent and a range of other equipment necessary in providing immediate relief to victims of natural and other disasters anywhere around the world.

Lakewood Ranch, Florida-based Shelterbox USA, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provide victims of disaster with shelter and oversees the assembly and delivery of the Shelterbox. For disclosure purposes, this post is not a public endorsement of Shelterbox USA but a review of the Shelterbox and its components.

The nonproft organization explains, "Shelterboxes are sponsored by service clubs, (Rotary Clubs), school and church groups, businesses and individuals, etc. Materials are ordered from a range of suppliers selected for general use, long-life, quality and price. Shelterboxes are prepared and packed using all new materials as delivered from manufacturers, at the Shelterbox warehouse based in Helston, Cornwall. The standard Shelterbox weighs 110 lbs. and has approximate dimensions 2'3" x 1'4" x 11". They are sealed and banded for transit and security. Box contents vary depending on the nature of the disaster requiring their use. Boxes are sometimes packed with two 10-person tents in them, (to the exclusion of some smaller items, to maximize shelter capacity)."

Some of the selected items that are available for inclusion in the Shelterbox are:
  • One 49 gallon box (The Shelterbox) initially the container for delivery of the materials listed below. Once delivered, can be used as water tank, food store, cot, table, etc.;
  • One ten-person tent, including two fabric interior privacy partitions, outer fly-sheet and repair kit. These tents are considered 'winter suitable' by international relief standards;
  • Vinyl insulated sleeping mats and lightweight thermal blankets. More compact than sleeping bags, these mats and blankets have multiple uses. The blanket can also be fashioned to catch water, as a tarp, etc. while the mat also serves as a ground 'table' for meals, or tent rugs;
  • One pack of 180 water purification tablets or a water purification kit; and one 5 gallon flat-pack water container (each tablet will purify a full container of water providing 1,800 gallons of clean drinking water, which should be sufficient for a family of ten for up to three months);
  • Two 2.1 gallon, collapsible, plastic water carriers;
  • One collapsible trenching shovel;
  • Rope, 164 foot;
  • Repellant-treated mosquito netting;
  • Ten PVC Ponchos/ten HD plastic bags;
  • Tool kit in canvas bag: hachet, jack-knife, screwdriver, hammer, hoe head etc.;
  • Multi-fueled cook stove;
  • Eating utensils: enamel plates/cups; and
  • Children's activity kit-simple school supplies, stickers and coloring book.
The contents are under continuous review. A small stock of wind-up radios (short-wave and FM) has been obtained to substitute a sleeping bag in every tenth box should such a requirement arise. For shipping purposes, a large container (40 feet) can accommodate up to 240 Shelterboxes, smaller containers would typically be half the size and quantities. The Shelterbox is designed to enable a family of up to ten people survive for at least six months. (Photo from Myanmar courtesy of Shelterbox USA)

According to the nonprofit's website, the first 140 Shelterboxes were sent to Gujarat in India following a devastating earthquake in 2001. Since then, ShelterBox has responded to more than 80 disasters in over 50 countries, sending out nearly 75,000 boxes worldwide – providing emergency accommodation for more than 500,000 disaster victims.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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