Using Redesigned Intermodal Shipping Containers for Improved Transportation and Emergency Relief Shelters

Lon Cooke (member of the STAR-TIDES network)

April 29, 2014

Millions of war refugees and disaster victims are now living in tents provided by relief organizations throughout the world.  These tents can supply short term relief from the elements, but provide very little comfort in harsh climates, low security in crowded refugee camps and must be replaced at regular intervals. Ref.: New York Times article;

Two years ago, a group of retired housing executives, myself included, formed an association to come up with a better solution for transporting relief supplies to disaster and refugee Settlements.  We built highly insulated mobile laboratories for the extreme climate in the North Dakota Bakken oil fields.  Through a variety of experimentations we felt that this unit was ideal for disaster and refugee shipping and shelter. Bios of the group members can be seen in the document linked to “Read more…” below.


The mobile laboratories we developed provided both more efficient relief supply transportation and superior refugee shelter in one unit. The units use the structural insulated panels (SIPs) to fabricate an 8’ x 40’, one way Intermodal Container that can be converted into an emergency shelter at a disaster or refugee relief site. SIPs are a laminated product that is so strong they it can withstand substantial abuse, can easily support a four-story building, and will provide a comfortable shelter in temperatures ranging from subzero to 100+ degrees Fahrenheit with minimal energy usage.


Shelter is a complicated issue for disaster relief.  Competing priorities of cost, transportation, quality, durability, safety, and social acceptability all come into play.  There is no one solution for sheltering displaced populations and the quantity of the Refuge Intermodal Containers may not be sufficient to all the needs in a large settlement.  However, I believe it is worth checking out the Intermodal Shipping Container in order to solve problems for the next disaster.

Bios, Retired Housing Executive Development Team….

Frank Baker, an engineer and entrepreneur, started his own Structural Insulated Panel business in 1976, Insulspan and its associated company Riverbend Timer Framing.  These companies became the largest producer of SIPs in North America and five years ago were sold to PFB Corporation, where he now sits on the Board of Directors.  Frank is also is on the Board of Directors for SIPA, the Structural Insulated Panel Association of America. Through SIPA and PFB Corp, Frank is an envoy for the SIP industry to the US government and other entities.

Stewart Elliott is one of the original patent holders for the structural insulated panel box.  He is a licensed contractor, a former Manager of Sales for Riverbend Timber Framing, and currently a SIP and timber framing design and construction consultant throughout the United States. Stewart has a BS from Boston University.

Adrienne Malley is an urban planner with a Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan.  Her experience is working with architectural, engineering and construction firms in strategic planning, business development, graphic design, website development and the development of sales and marketing materials. She is currently consulting for both an architectural firm and a contractor.

Lon Cooke is an engineering graduate of the US Naval Academy and has managed three national home building manufacturing plants.  He built, equipped, staffed and ran the largest manufactured housing facility in the USA.  As an accelerated start-up, the company went from zero to 100 houses per week in eight months.



About startides

TIDES Research Assistant Intern
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