Alumnus Creates Life-Saving Flooring Solution for Refugee Camps

By Tarah Thomas '16
6/28/2018 4:47:45 PM

Emergency Floor using shipping pallettes and plastic

Natural disasters, wartime and infectious diseases around the world displace millions of people from their homes into refugee camps.

Refugee camp tents and buildings have roofs to protect the tenants from the rain and walls that separate living quarters, but few, if any, have floors—a powerful shield from common parasites, soil-borne or waterborne diseases like bacterial infections, and hypothermia.

Scott Key, a 2009 graduate of John Brown University's construction management program, and his business partner and friend Sam Brisendine, have created a unique flooring solution called Emergency Floor.

Key and Brisendine’s design creates a modular flooring system made of a 100 percent recyclable plastic pieces, that fit together like a puzzle, laid on top of shipping palettes. The flooring provides insulation and protection from disease and flooding.

Key and Brisendine developed the concept after they presented a shelter design, named Emergency Core, at a disaster relief conference in New Orleans in 2012 for their master’s project at Rice University.

At the conference, Key and Brisendine noted the humanitarian organizations’ need for effective flooring in refugee camps, but no one had an affordable system, said Key.

Key and Brisendine took on the challenge. They worked from the ground-up and collaborated with Better Shelter, a subsidiary of IKEA, to find a cost-effective flooring solution made from long-lasting, globally available materials.

“We believe our product can be the difference between life and death for many people,” Key said. “Our challenge is to get into the supply chain. Until then, it is just an idea.”

The first roadblock the pair faced was a lack of capital to pay for the cost of design, prototype creation and the manufacturing of the units.

The Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded Key and Brisendine $165,000 in mid-April to produce the newest design of Emergency Floor and to implement the design into refugee shelters as a trial run.

Part of the grant terms required Key and Brisendine to raise $50,000 on their own. With the help of an online Indiegogo funding campaign, Key and Brisendine raised $52,000 and gained an additional $50,000 grant from Water Walking Foundation to continue their work.

“As designers, we have a specific way of looking at the world and people,” Key said. “Our kingdom perspective as Christians should be to use our career to make the world better and not destroy God’s creation, as best we can.”

Key attributes his passion for this work to discussions he had at JBU with professors and classmates.

“My professors at JBU always challenged students to think about ways to make a difference in others’ lives through their career,” Key said, remembering a paper assigned by Dr. David Vila, professor of religion and philosophy, on “How what we do in our careers furthers the Kingdom of God.”

“I was fortunate to be in a place where faculty talked with students about how Christians should live,” Key said. “It shifted the way I thought about things, changed my worldview.”

The first Emergency Floor systems will be installed in approximately 40 inhabited refugee shelters across Iraq in December 2015 or January 2016. Key and Brisendine have partnered with UNHCR, World Vision and STEP-UK to identify implement sites for the first 40 floors.

This pilot implementation will be installed with sensors to monitor the performance of the design.

“This pilot is the next step in the process toward mass production. While we can predict what kind of differences the floor will make for health, safety and quality of life, we have to prove the design with measurable data,” Key said.  

Key and Brisendine will also gather user-feedback through pre and post-installation surveys and will work on making the necessary changes to the design for eventual large-scale implementation.

Scott and Brisendine have recently been featured in Forbes Magazine, Huffington Post and the Houston Chronicle.

The Emergency Floor is the second product created by their for-profit start-up, Good Works Studio, Inc., which the duo manages on top of working full-time jobs and spending time with their families.

Good Works Studio is a “collaborative design firm” working to create permanent solutions to people’s needs around the world by collaborating with other designers and organizations. The company’s first product was the Emergency Core.


Scott Key & Sam Brisendine stand atop an Emergency Floor

Scott Key (left) and Sam Brisendine stand atop an Emergency Floor system installed in a refugee shelter.


Find out more about JBU's construction management program.


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