This article is over 11 years old


Students Design Hurricane Shelter

A professor at Rice University has spent nearly the past week sleeping on campus. Sleeping not in the dorms or campus housing, but in a makeshift shelter his students designed as a class project. As Bill Stamps reports — they hope the shelter will one day be used by the federal government during natural disasters, or even by astronauts on another planet.


To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>

“It is strange to be living in a box in on a college campus.”

It’s not very big, about the size of a backyard shed. But inside there’s everything you need to live: electricity, running water and if it’s hot, air conditioning.

Rice professor Brent Houchens gave me a tour.

“What we have here is a conditioned living space, so we have a ten foot high ceiling on one end, coming down to a six foot high ceiling. Our solar panels generate enough power during the day to run our air conditioning and we also charge an external battery bank so we have power at night so we can have light, communications and limited living conditions.”

Houchens gave this students the task of coming up with a self contained shelter that can be put together and broken down easily and also contain everything you need to live, say after a hurricane or natural disaster.

The shelters could take the place of FEMA trailers at a lower price.

“The habitat packs down into two six foot by three and a half boxes, so you could put this in the back of a full size pickup truck. The idea is that if you can do that kind of design, if you go build a habitat on mars on the moon, you might find yourself wanting to do more with limited resources.

Rice Senior Jeroune Rhodes is one of the students who worked on the project this school year. He says there was a point when they questioned whether they could actually put together such a shelter.

inside the conditioned living space “I think construction was probably the toughest, because I mean, I’ve never built a house before and our other members hadn’t as well.”

The shelter has PVC pipes that carry water to a toilet and also to a small shower. There is a water filter system that purifies the water, allowing you to use it over and over. Professor Houchens has been living on the shelter for almost a week, as a promise to his students, and also to show that it can be done.

“It’s kind of like improved camping. And I’ll be in here until Tuesday, so seven days total.”

Professor Houchens is also about to get married. He says although the students did a great job making the shelter livable, there’s almost no chance of his new bride joining him in during his stay.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required