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Grain Bins Provide Shelter After Disaster

October 27, 2012
By: Margy Eckelkamp, Farm Journal Machinery Editor and Test Plot Director
pC6 Homes from the Heartland 2

Grain bins provide temporary shelter after a disaster

The January 2010 earthquake near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, left more than 1.5 million people homeless, according to the United Nations. Two thousand miles away, Brett Nelson, who works as an occupational safety director at Sukup Manufacturing Co., heard the news of the devastation and wanted to help.

"My wife and I had talked about building our home out of a grain bin. I know how versatile they  can be, so I thought, Why can’t we design a transitional home that is safe and easy to construct in response to emergencies?" he says.

With support from the company’s president, Charles Sukup, and chief financial officer, Steve Sukup, Nelson spearheaded the design of a prototype. From there, he worked with various nongovernmental agencies and charities to find destinations for the Safe T Homes. Now, Sukup has at least four sites where its product is used for temporary shelters or homes.

"The whole Safe T Homes project is a reflection of the Sukup family’s values," Nelson says. "With their innovation and compassion, it’s being proven they are committed to help."

pC6 Homes from the Heartland 1

The Village of Hope project, coordinated by the Global Compassion Network, uses 38  Sukup Safe T Homes for housing.

The 18'-diameter Safe T Homes are highly modified grain bins featuring 20-gauge sidewalls, a walk-through steel door and two windows that have 16-gauge steel screens for safety and to keep out insects. For additional ventilation, the structure includes a continuous eave vent around the rim, and a perforated steel cupola allows accumulated heat to escape. The roof is made with two layers: one layer of 3" ribbed steel and a top layer of steel that reflects the energy from the sun.

"We’ve found that it’s about 10° cooler in the Safe T Home than outside," Nelson explains. In November 2010, the company donated 14 structures to be used as hospital shelters just outside Port-au-Prince, as well as construction labor. Neighbor to neighbor. The next initiative was part of Haiti’s Village of Hope, where the structures are used as temporary homes for families who will
learn agricultural and entrepreneurial skills, then move out when they find employment and adequate housing elsewhere. Then another family can move in. Residents are screened by Global Compassion Network, a nonprofit agency that administers the Village of Hope project.

"When we named it the Safe T Home, I was thinking of the occupants in the tent cities," Nelson says. "They are so vulnerable. With our homes, they can feel secure and have peace of mind.  These homes have meant the difference between life and death, between keeping your children or giving them up for adoption, and assurance in having your family safe all day and night."

Nelson along with three others from Sukup—Nick Sukup, Luke Erickson and Joe Germain—traveled to Haiti in February 2012. Each day about 100 people gathered at their construction site, hoping to land a job building homes. After finding capable workers on-site, they divided into four teams to work on sidewalls, roofing and ballast boxes and built two houses per day. The last of the 11 homes were put up almost entirely by Haitians.

An experienced team of four can put a home up in just a few hours using minimal tools, Nelson says. Even a novice crew can have one built in a day. In addition to the grain bin homes, the Village of Hope features communal bathroom and cooking facilities.

Rapid-response homes. "Our team designed these homes so they can be easily transported and built quickly to respond to emergencies," Nelson says.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - November 2012

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