By Samantha Lehto

For the Daily

In a time when emergency relief has become a top priority after the devastation of the tsunami in South Asia, Art and Design Prof. Allen Samuels has found a way for those who have lost everything to find a sense of space for themselves among the wreckage.

Samuels has recently completed a biodegradable emergency shelter that can provide refuge in times of natural disaster. Samuels said he came up with the idea when he read about the overcrowding in prisons across the nation.

“Overcrowding in prisons doesn’t allow for privacy, or dignity,” Samuels claimed, “The idea was to create a portable, disposable, modular, individual environment.”

The shelter consists of a flat surface where a mattress can be placed. A canopy covers the device and provides for privacy to sleep. But when the canopy is opened it can be removed and used to block off a personal area for changing and grooming, or simply to get away.

The individual shelter is approximately three feet wide and seven feet long, with the canopy reaching three feet when in the downward position. Shelters are also available in larger sizes to accommodate couples and families.

Samuels said he realized the shelters could be used in times of natural disaster as well, as they would be cheap, lightweight and easily transportable. The device is also ecologically friendly, about as dangerous to the environment as a diaper, Samuels said.

“Once the device is used, it’s the designer’s responsibility to figure out how to get rid of it.”

Samuels has worked on several projects over the years, including furniture, medical equipment and running shoes, and has most recently worked on new inventions for senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The Office of Research, which spends about $5 million a year on faculty projects, has donated to Samuels’s projects, said Assistant to the Vice President for Research Lee Katterman. Twenty-nine private corporations have also contracted Samuels to work for them.

This project, however, is entirely self-funded, and Samuels has designed and built his shelters without using a team, unlike with most of his other projects. He hopes to find a corporation to sponsor his project now that the basic idea is complete.

When Samuels does find a sponsor, he will begin sorting through the many ideas he has to make the shelters as versatile as possible. Using different fabrics and a varying design will allow the shelters to be used in different climates for different amounts of time, and will allow them to be disposed of as easily as possible.

“I’d like to get a man who has the same ideals,” Samuels said. “(This project) is not about money, it’s about being there when you’re needed.”

According to Hershey Jayasuriya, co-president of the organization Tsunami Aid, the infrastructures in areas hit by the tsunami have been destroyed. The ground in these places is not even workable, and she suggests that it may take up to a few decades for the areas to be livable. “There is definitely a shortage of shelter,” Jayasuriya said. “I would estimate one million people have been displaced, if not more.”


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