Innovating Shelter for Those in Need

Author Archives John Rossi

Flying Colors

Posted by John Rossi on February 20, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

RDM in snowAfter leaving Natick last Thursday, all thoughts were on Nemo (our blizzard) and how the two RDM’s would fare out in all that wind and snow.  We have one set up in Natick MA and another just outside Boston.  As of around 10:AM Saturday, the National weather service posts the snow total for Natick at 24.0″ and hurricane force winds in the area with much the same at site #2.  We have requested Nemo weather data for the Natick base and will post that when we have it.  In the meantime, it is great to report that the BOTH of the RDM’s that we left out in the cold did just fine.  Neither suffered damage or leakage.  The snow piled up all around them and left eddies in the wake of the wind, but none got inside.  Just like superstorm Sandy – a real test.  And they both passed with flying colors.

Three Years since Haiti Earthquake

Posted by John Rossi on February 13, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

Yesterday saw the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti (January 12, 2010). After the quake, the world responded with an outpouring of aid, energy and money. Unfortunately, all sides recognize that much of that effort and money ($5.9B of the $9.8B USD pledged) has simply “disappeared”, without providing much value to Haitians themselves. When Tina and I were in Haiti this past August & September, we noticed that the people seemed so calm in the midst of so much mess and chaos. We wrote that if the pace of recovery in Haiti were to happen almost anywhere else in the world, there would be rioting in the streets.
Haiti Recovery
As this info graphic from the Huffington Post describes, the quake killed more than a quarter-million people and injured more than 300,000. Government and NGO sources cite that of the estimated 1.5 million people displaced, approximately 1.2 million have been relocated. That may sound pretty good, but the term “relocated” refers to many things, including temporary rental vouchers for some, super-crowded houses for others. Meanwhile, after thirty-six months, 300,000 people (or more), remain in camps with little or no idea about when (or if) things might change. These are camps with only very basic water, electricity or sanitation.

Considering all this, we ask ourselves:

Is what has been done “good enough”?

What if you knew someone in one of those camps?

Blizzard research

Posted by John Rossi on February 08, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

We are continually looking for ways to improve the RDM. This blizzard gives us the opportunity we’ve been waiting for: we can test the prototype roof bracing system through some of the most extreme conditions the RDM has faced to date.

We have two demonstration/observation RDM’s we have set up here in MA. Since we’ve been developing new bracing systems for our roofs, we decided that we needed to push ourselves and get one of our prototype roof systems onto the RDM at the Natick ARMY base NOW. So, we immediately got in touch with our contact there and spent some time this afternoon removing part of the old system and installing the new. The RDM has never looked better. The roof is tight as a drum and should shed the 14″ – 24″ of snow that is expected. And now the unit is strapped and staked as it should be to withstand a blizzard. Over the next few days, the RDM will be monitored by Army personnel. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Roof StrutStrut closeup

Congress Approves $9.7B out of $60B Hurricane Sandy Relief Package

Posted by John Rossi on January 07, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

On January 4, Congress approved a bill partially funding Sandy relief efforts. However, the funding is less than 1/6 the amount requested by local, state and federal agencies in the midst of the cleanup. This is not a political issue; it’s more basic than that. We tell each other and teach our children that people should keep their promises. Our nation has promised to help our citizens in distress, but is now refusing to do so. People are still living away from their homes with friends or family – or worse, actually in their water soaked, nearly ruined homes in unsafe conditions.

John StewartOn January 7, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart berated a Congress that has been slow at addressing the horrible damage done to New York and New Jersey by Sandy and by their eventual failure to live up to our nation’s promises. Stewart was snarky and funny, but also seemed moved and very serious about the terrible consequences of a political system so stuck in its ideological bog that America’s leadership can’t see clear to doing what is right. If we don’t think government should help in these situations, we can debate and put it to a vote. But – as we tell any child – you don’t promise to help someone and then refuse to do so right when they need it.

Where are the Trailers? Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn

Posted by John Rossi on December 02, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Sandy doorA few weeks back, we blogged about some members of the Visible Good team traveling to New York to survey the damage from Sandy and to see if/how we could help. At the time, we all commented on the scarcity of tents, trailers and frankly any type of temporary shelter at all. More than one month after Sandy hit, many people are still seeking some kind of shelter. Despite a clear and present need, temporary shelters have not arrived there, citing a lack of space. The Huffington Post and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published articles focusing attention on the lack of trailers or other temporary shelters in this heavily damaged section of New York. There are mobile help centers and rent subsidies, but there are no apartments available because so many buildings have been ruined.

Due to lack of options, some folks have chosen to stay inside their storm-gutted homes, rather than move away. The long term consequences of living in a flooded structure can be catastrophic for anyone, including any emergency personnel that may have to enter to help. With winter coming on, these water logged shells, with no power or heat become more like moldy old refrigerators than homes. We hope Federal, State and local officials can see a way clear of this mess and begin to roll in with shelters so that affected residents can safely get back to their neighborhoods, repair their homes and get on with their lives.

Update on Hurricane Sandy – A couple of weeks later…

Posted by John Rossi on November 30, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Sandy BuildingIt has now been several weeks since the storm hit and almost two since our visit. According to both the news and our contacts in the area, little to nothing has been done about shelters on-site in the most devastated areas. For our part, we have been working through NYC firms familiar with the emergency response agencies and the political landscape in an attempt to get noticed and to gain a foothold there. However, progress remains slow and the task daunting. Even Federal and State agencies seem reluctant to bring in their trailers, citing insufficient open space. Indeed, the greatest presence we noticed while there was New York’s Department of Sanitation. They were literally amazing – bringing in equipment, helping to clean up, organize, you name it. We’ll see how things go for Visible Good – and any other shelter providers we hear of – in New York and write about it.

Thoughts about Sandy and New York

Posted by John Rossi on November 20, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Our hope is to work with City and State officials and to offer them a solution for several of their needs. In the near term, there are ambulances parked everywhere, offering medical care as needed. As time goes by and so many buildings need reconstruction, the need for first aid for all those workers will grow. Having temporary on-site clinics in the neighborhoods, rather than idling ambulances with their crews on street corners would save the City a huge amount of much needed disaster relief funding. Our RDM can serve in both the short and long term as a medical clinic/first aid station for victims and for those helping them to rebuild. We can see RDM’s serving in the neighborhoods as community spaces for meetings, information sharing and even as neighborhood watch kiosks. Also, because the RDM is easy to keep warm and dry, using them as warming stations for residents working on their homes or for the many workers and volunteers on hand to help seems to be a good fit.

This is our time to help, I’m hoping we get the chance.
toy in wreckage

Sandy Reconnaissance

Posted by John Rossi on November 19, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Our trip took us through Brooklyn, out to Long Island, Staten Island, and Manhattan.

First stop was Belle Harbor… the popular boardwalk is now a pile of kindling… and many houses are off their foundations, or completely destroyed. Driving on to Breezy Point, we passed several large buildings that had burned as a result of storm damage.. leaving charred steel beams bent in tortured shapes. We have seen full-grown trees that look like burnt matchsticks, you can see how high the flood waters were because there is a straight line across the trunk. Below it, the tree looks perfectly normal, above it a few feet of charred twig is all that remains. It looks like a bomb went off here.
NYC Boardwalk
Thankfully, the iconic Wonder Wheel and Cyclone on Coney Island are still standing. But the neighborhood lies in ruins. Debris, cars, appliances, and the stink of a damaged sewer system… all in a swirl sand and of dried dune grass. Even Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs is shuttered.
Sandy wreckage

Sandy Hits New York

Posted by John Rossi on November 18, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

A few weeks after Hurricane Sandy made land-fall in New York, the Visible Good team is headed there to do our ongoing research on how disaster relief works and to assess how our shelter system may be of use. We have delayed our trip on advice from friends at the NY State Dept. of Homeland Security, because of the chaos that is already there.

Our plan is visit as many places as we are allowed, gather information concerning what victims really need in these circumstances and how Visible Good could fit into rescue and recovery efforts.
Sandy radar image

Our last night in Haiti – at least for now

Posted by John Rossi on September 01, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Today, Tina and I drove down to Gran Goave, a small town on the coast, a couple of hours south and west of Port Au Prince. Life in the countryside is very different than what we typically see of Port Au Prince. Out here, life has pretty much returned to normal, except that there is allot more building going on. We have made our way to my friend Kevin Groder’s base at the Mission of Hope Haiti, where they are busy building a new school and church building in one location and then a new school at the top of a mountain known as Icondo. From way up there (the mountains here are real and high), this place is vast and beautiful. And despite being so remote and in the hills, there are people everywhere. There’s a saying here: you are never alone in Haiti; apparently not even at the top of a mountain. The children here have been very curious and friendly and running around everywhere. We saw a new orphanage being build by the “Be Like Britt” organization, the place is a veritable palace down here. Kudos to architect Paul Fallon of Cambridge MA for taking on this project and the school at the mission gratis. When we were together, walking around, crossing a river, visiting people in their kombits, I kept thinking about how this place could be one of those Caribbean “destinations” for better or for worse. I also wondered about all of the great efforts and volunteers that have poured money and energy into the country with mixed results and I thought about our conversations with Haitians, NGO’s and with Danielle. The mission here was very much destroyed by the quake. In two years, the place has been rebuilt better AND bigger – mostly by Haitians themselves. The be like Britt folks are very close to completion of Avery complex building in a difficult place on a difficult site – again by Haitians. These examples are not simply great “projects”, they are the results of a PLAN. Even before the quake, the Mission was reimagining Haiti. Danielle would be proud, so should all the people making this happen.

We leave for the States tomorrow afternoon. It will take us weeks to digest and understand what we have seen, heard and felt. I will try to keep this up as we do.