The Potential for Computational IT Tools in Disaster Relief and Shelter Design

The expanding use of IT has brought an increase in productivity to the world of business, industry and commerce. However, this is not mirrored by an equivalent growth in the use of IT by aid agencies in post-disaster situations. We report a pioneering two-stage study which tested the appetite for the increased use of computational IT tools in this sector, assessed their level of usefulness and whether they can be practically implemented. Thirty aid workers across nineteen countries were surveyed on their use of IT and computational tools in shelter design and provision. The key finding was that none of the participants used any building simulation tools or software packages in any of the design stages of shelter construction. Using this result, two example tools were created – one assessing daylighting and the other environmental impact. A second survey involving 48 aid-workers was then carried out to record their experience of using the new tools and 97% of the participants identified a need for such shelter design tools. The majority felt that the new tools were useful and that they would like to use similar tools in their work, most of them preferring tools in the form of web applications. It is concluded that humanitarian workers in the shelter sector are very willing to adopt IT-based computational tools in their work and would appreciate doing so, but only if they have access to suitably simple tools which are quick to use and easy to learn.