Disaster Relief: A Psychological Approach to Temporary Shelter

Open Access
McDonough, Colleen Marie
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Architecture
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Christine Lee Gorby, Thesis Supervisor
  • Christine Lee Gorby, Honors Advisor
  • Katsuhiko Muramoto, Faculty Reader
  • Architecture
  • Disaster Relief
  • Psychology
There are many aid organizations in the world that provide post-disaster care. There are even more opinions on how the care should be administered. Food, clean water, and clothing are all non-negotiable, but the issue of shelter is often a great sources of controversy. Part of the controversy is over what kind of shelter is best after a natural disaster. Often, people live in temporary housing: tents, trailers, etc., for a period of time longer than initially intended. The opinion of many non-government organizations (NGOs) is to skip the temporary housing phase of recovery, and go straight to building public infrastructure instead. This becomes problematic for the people stuck in less than adequate situations. Temporary housing after a disaster is something that is going to happen whether or not NGOs want it to. What is needed is a type of temporary housing that can adapt with its inhabitants. A house that is able to arrive at the site of the disaster quickly. A house that isn’t made of toxic materials. The psychological state of disaster victims at the time of temporary housing is very vulnerable. They are in the most difficult phase of recovery: depression and realizations are hitting them the hardest. They need a steadying experience to ground their daily routines. A comfortable temporary home could be the base they need. The home should only be usable for up to 5 years after the disaster, but it should be a home that the inhabitants have control over. Through studying the juxtaposition between the stages of psychological disaster management and architectural disaster management, I have been trying to support my thesis. Unfortunately, there are two very prominent schools of thought, which cannot be easily compromised when it comes to temporary disaster relief in architecture. The first idea is that disaster relief needs to be placed in the situation as soon as possible. The longer victims live without some kind of place to call their own “home,” the more psychological damage this could cause them. The second idea is that disaster relief needs to be a community process. The community needs to be rebuilt in the best way possible to give residents a sense of closure and accomplishment. The reason these two ideas haven’t worked well together in the past is because the solution to the first problem is often prefabricated housing, which is exactly the problem that the second solution is trying to solve. I do, however, believe that a compromise can be forged between the two. The community does need immediate disaster relief, but they also need to be able to take some kind of hand in their own rebuilding.