Amidst all the heartbreaking stories out of Haiti these past two weeks, I was impressed to see that Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) was deploying an inflatable hospital. An inflatable hospital? What a great idea!
Here's how it works. Air is pumped into the columns and beams that support the structure, which are made of heavy material like that found in inflatable lifeboats. Air is also pumped into walls and roofs made of two layers of nylon about 18 inches apart when inflated. The air gives them stiffness and insulating qualities.
FSI North America produces the inflatable hospital, although they aren't the only manufacturer selling such buildings. It is listed in their catalog under Multi Purpose Rapid Deploy Shelters. The buildings they sell range from 100 square feet to 1,850 square feet. For the Doctors Without Borders hospital, several buildings are tied together. Once they are properly tied down, they can withstand winds of up to 70 miles per hour. The nylon material is chemical resistant and fire retardant. Each unit comes packed in a bundle about the size of a desk and takes only minutes to set up. The buildings are packed with all the tools necessary to set them up plus a repair kit. Watch how they put the hospital up in Haiti.
Shelters like these can be used for temporary housing and offices as well as hospitals. The relatively small packing size means they fit into a cargo hold rather easy. A shipload of small inflatable shelters could provide shelter, privacy, and an address for many people left homeless by the earthquake in Haiti as well as wars and other disasters wherever they occur.