STATIM Shelters Do Not Answer All Natural Disaster Questions

March 18, 2011

Last week I wrote about the tsunami shelter designed by Miguel A. Serrano called The STATIM shelter system. In theory, I do believe it is a good idea and that something must be done so that places which are susceptible to natural disasters have a higher survival rating. But I believe a better solution, more than shelters, to rebuilding Japan and future choices in city-making is required.

People feel safe knowing that they have a place to go in case of an emergency. In reality they need to be safe without having to go somewhere for protection. Perhaps the option to explore is how to build everyday structures that can be used in case the need arises. Basements could be designed to be tsunami shelters. The same techniques that Serrano employed to building individual shelters, pre-cast concrete, gasket joints and post-tension cables, could be used in homes and businesses alike.

In an on-going study done by the University of California, Berkeley, the NAHB Research Center/National Institute of Standards & Technology and Stanford University it has been shown that structures which withstand earthquakes the best are those composed of concrete reinforced with steel. In a brief on Concrete Homes Plus they state,

“In reinforced concrete construction, the combination of concrete and steel provides the three most important properties for earthquake resistance: stiffness, strength, and ductility. Masonry or concrete walls not reinforced with steel bars were not ductile enough to be effective shear walls. And if there is no steel connecting them to their foundation, the joint between walls and foundation can be a weak point.”

Oregon City Hall Design Concept

Combining this study’s conclusion with the STATIM’s technology could produce buildings of reinforced concrete with a shelter incorporated. Currently in Cannon Beach, Oregon they are preparing to build the first tsunami-resistant shelter in the US with their updated design of the City Hall building.

This would eliminate the need for separate concrete capsules. In Japan’s current nuclear radiation scare, the concrete would need to be several feet thick to keep out the radiation, but yet not too dense that they would have floated for immediate rescue after the tsunami passed and vented for survival of the people within. Can these answers co-exist?

Besides the conflicts that would arise from telling people that they need to go into these enclosed capsules, how do you deal with the areas that are over capacity? This brings to mind the Titanic, which was sailing with not enough life boats for half of its occupants the night it sank. Who gets to decide who gets to be inside and who gets left out, hoping to survive the elements?

Another question is who would be paying for the construction of these shelters and their supplies? Would it be like bomb-shelters were here in US, individually owned, and those that did take action are ridiculed for overreacting? If countries’ governments do financially support these structures, perhaps it would be a smarter decision to build a tunnel around the boarders where the entire cities could descend to in emergencies. They could contain locked storage with supplies for hundreds. Yes, this may lead to an undesirable permanent dwelling for the homeless or teenage mischief, but wouldn’t you rather know that the option is there for everyone, not just the first 50 in the neighborhood to make it to right spot?

As Japan now faces the threat of nuclear meltdown, it is reasonable to conclude that mankind cannot be prepared for all elements that natural disasters can bring forth. But I do believe that there are options that need to seriously be explored and discussed. Serrano should not be faulted for his patented idea, but it is that, an idea designed to make money, but at least he put the effort out to get the ball rolling.

Questioning everything makes a stronger argument. Let’s do something that makes a difference for the majority and become a better world in times of need and the re-building of homes, businesses and spirits!

Resources: United States Patent and Trademark Office, Concrete Homes Plus, National Geographic, Science Insider


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Jennifer Shockley

Jennifer is originally from Colorado and has recently moved back from Michigan. She is finishing up her Master’s degree in Architecture. She is currently focusing on urban planning and sustainable design and hopes to gain employment at a design firm specializing in these areas. Jennifer also has writing experience serving as an editor for her school newspaper and college magazine. Jennifer has two cats named Prada and Dior-aptly named after her shoe obsession. You can follow Jennifer on twitter @jenshock81.
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