With wildfires raging on America’s west coast and hurricanes to the east, 2020 has shaped up to be a uniquely rough year for natural disasters, COVID-19 notwithstanding.
In response to this, Grand Haven-based Harbor Industries Inc. created temporary shelters that meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and could protect millions of people displaced by national emergencies and disasters.
Harbor’s Rapid Deployment Modular Room System (RDMRS) gym kit was designed specifically for emergency congregate shelters with a capacity of more than double the traditional, open-air emergency shelters that cannot easily convert room sizes to meet CDC guidelines.
The modular systems can house over 110 people in a variety of configurations, allowing for families to safely stay together, minimizing interactions between occupants and creating separate quarantine areas, if needed.
“The United States has a severe and long-term natural disaster management challenge,” said Walter Miranda, Harbor’s president. “We saw this need and felt strongly that we could develop a simple system for emergency management organizations which solved the COVID-19 social distancing challenges and concerns for both the displaced population and the relief organizations managing the disaster response.”
National Guard Incident Response Manager Jon Barry, serving as Harbor’s product director for wellness and emergency response, echoed the CDC’s and other emergency best practice organizations’ recommendations for housing displaced persons in a high school gym or community center based on the smaller footprint and access to facilities.
“One thing is clear: new processes and solutions are necessary to safely socially distance displaced persons in disaster response scenarios with controls to limit the transmission of a virus in congregate or shelter housing,” Barry said. “This guidance creates a severe challenge for many communities throughout the county as the majority have limited access to shelter sites or alternatives which can accommodate the six-foot physical distance standard from the CDC.”
Pre-pandemic, most high school gyms could house 90 people in an emergency if cots were stacked side-by-side, but CDC social distancing guidelines have reduced that capacity to about 45 people, Barry said.
“Most communities don’t have giant arenas,” Barry said. “By designing a system of modular, hard walls you can extend the number of people by around 55%.”
Harbor’s RDMRS can be set up and ready to house those displaced from their homes in a matter of hours — depending on how many people set it up — all in adherence with CDC guidelines for social distancing.
The product also can be used by states, counties, municipalities, military and emergency relief organizations for additional use as cooling stations for the elderly, low-income housing and the homeless.
“Traditionally, large communities will set up cooling stations when it’s hot in the summer for people without air conditioning,” Barry said. “In a pandemic, those types of environments are discouraged. We just want to point out the multifaceted uses for the system itself.”
Harbor’s RDMRS was designed for both temporary and semi-permanent deployment, from one week to one year.
The RDMRS is a relatively new product and has yet to see deployment, but Barry added Harbor Industries is communicating with several communities combating wildfires out west to see what their needs are.
Traditionally known for designing and manufacturing in the retail space, Harbor Industries pivoted to developing COVID-19 response products for education, polling, disaster relief, retail chains, grocery, convenience stores, fast-casual restaurants, municipalities and more.