How Hurricane Katrina Inspired A Revolutionary New Disaster Shelter

The crisis that followed Hurricane Katrina eight years ago inspired Michael McDaniel to create EXO. The innovative emergency housing system offers a surprisingly simple alternative to house the over 32 million people who are displaced from natural disasters every year.


Since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Michael McDaniel has spent the last eight years creating a rapid response emergency housing system that is unparalleled in the world of disaster relief solutions. Though there have been competing Rapid Deployment Modules (RDMs) in the works, like Visible Good or Modularflex, McDaniel’s Reaction Housing System prototype, The EXO, stands apart from its opponents through its low-cost, transportability, durability, and its easy-to-assemble “kit of parts” that can have you safe and warm inside its bullet-proof structure in under two minutes.

Unlike the infamous trailers that FEMA deployed in response to Katrina, which cost around $20,000 each and were mandated for one-time use only, EXOs around $5,000, are reusable, recyclable, and because of their stackability, can be transported at a rate of 28 units per semi-truck load vs. one unit per truck for each FEMA Trailer.

Based on the design on a simple styrofoam coffee cup, each 80 square foot EXO unit consists of two pieces: a base which serves as the floor, and an upper shell making the walls and roof, that simply latch together wherever they are deployed. The upper shells are made from “Tegris, an incredibly durable composite, an aircraft-grade aluminum super structure,” according to Reaction Housing System’s site.

The design of the EXO also keeps in mind the human factors natural disaster aftermath, through its mass deployment configurations. The EXOs can be configured in a circle, semi-circle, or even connected in a straight line to make larger structures, creating zones or small cities, keeping families and neighbors together during the interim between disaster and permanent housing.

“One of the biggest hurdles they had after Katrina, particularly in the Astrodome, is that they didn’t know where anybody was. There were literally people walking around with cardboard signs with their family member’s names scrawled on them” says McDaniel.

Michael McDaniel“There’s a lot of software beyond just the architecture. We essentially have a Nest-style sensor packet that’s inside each unit. As soon as they’re powered up, they instantly form a mesh network and start relaying their status back to our central populous app.”

Nearing the end of their funding phase, the only thing holding back Reaction Housing Systems from fulfilling their demand for EXOs (including requests from Haiti, Japan, and Syria) is getting to the production phase. “Production is the next milestone for us. Once we’re in production, the world is, hopefully, our oyster.”



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