Intro to the Basic Shelter Panel System

Bailey bridge over the Coppename River at Bitagron, Suriname. This example uses triple-wide, single-high panels, and ribands can be seen through the planking. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

My first job after graduation from college was at Bailey Bridges, Inc. in San Luis Obispo, CA. The Bailey Bridge is an ingenious modular prefabricated truss bridge system. With just three main standard components, bridges from 10′ to 270′ in length, with no intermediate supports, can be built. The components for a bridge about 100′ in length can be transported on two standard 40′ flatbed trailers. Two people with a forklift or backhoe can assemble the bridge in 2 – 3 days if they know what they are doing. The bridge can be assembled on one bank of a river, and by bolting extra panels to the back end to add weight, it can be pushed forward on rollers until the front end reaches the other bank. While I worked at Bailey Bridges, Inc. we shipped a bridge to Antarctica, and several to Central and South America – they can be used almost anywhere.

Every time there is some type of disaster (the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile being the most recent) I wonder why no one has developed a system of modular prefabricated building components, like the Bailey Bridge system, that can be assembled into small shelters. Indeed, in the years around World War II there were a number of modular prefabricated building systems developed, including quonset huts, White Castle porcelain steel buildings, porcelain steel service stations, and the infamous Lustron houses. The Lustron debacle and the image of prefabricated buildings as cheap ‘mobile homes’ seem to have done in the industry, with a few exceptions. Continue reading