On September 28, 2010, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on the state of post-disaster, interim housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and opportunities to improve the quality and value of this housing. After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA updated its interim-housing procurement specifications to reduce formaldehyde levels in trailer interiors. But there are other criteria that FEMA could also specify, including improved energy efficiency, durability, resilience, accessibility, indoor air quality, and life-cycle cost. This briefing addressed opportunities for FEMA to incorporate high performance criteria into its procurement specs; current efforts underway by FEMA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and others to develop and test new prototypes; and the potential economic and health benefits for disaster victims, taxpayers, communities, residents of all new manufactured housing, and FEMA itself.

  • Between 1998 and 2008, FEMA spent $1.1 billion on travel trailers and manufactured housing.
  • The Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005 revealed serious problems in the complex process of disaster housing procurement and deployment. Many of these problems were beyond FEMA’s control, including complaints of health-related issues from formaldehyde exposure in travel trailers used inappropriately for extended periods of time.
  • The aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes compelled an examination of the disaster housing process, and Congress funded an Alternative Housing Pilot Program (AHPP) to develop better, safer and more cost effective temporary housing solutions than the exclusive use of travel trailers.
  • The AHPP resulted in production of manufactured home prototypes that are “dual certified” to meet/exceed federal construction and safety requirements for manufactured housing (the “HUD-code”) as well as local building codes.
  • “High performance” features of these prototypes included energy efficiency above Energy Star requirements, superior indoor air quality, attractive but rugged design and construction able to withstand 150 mph winds, and long-term affordability through reduced operating and maintenance costs – all for about the same price as the average disaster housing FEMA typically purchases.
  • Currently, FEMA is working closely with HUD and the Joint Housing Solutions Group to evaluate the AHPP prototypes. Both the comprehensive testing underway and interagency coordination are positive developments, but there are concerns that the testing and assessment process is taking too long and should be accelerated.
  • To the extent that FEMA procures manufactured housing, it should specify performance criteria that will ensure the highest performance for the best price based on life-cycle cost/benefit analysis.
  • FEMA should take steps to procure renewable power systems to ensure that disaster housing and critical operations can remain operational when critical infrastructure is destroyed. Solar-powered water pumping and purification systems, solar lighting, and many other technologies are used by the defense sector but not yet by FEMA.
  • The reconstruction phase following a disaster is an opportunity to build better. Energy efficiency must be part of the planning. Greensburg, Kansas, is a good example of holistic planning and design.
  • The federal government should provide funding and a template for pre-disaster planning, while states and regions should coordinate implementation.