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The Story Behind The Most Infamous Disaster Relief Tent

One of the unsung heroes of disaster situations is the emergency shelter. They are lightweight, hard-wearing, easy to put up and have saved millions of lives in the immediate aftermath of horrifying world events.

There are many different designs, but one of the most successful and hard-wearing relief shelter designs over the past five decades has unfortunately become associated with one of the most infamous scam events in recent years.

The geodesic tent, as patented and designed by Bob Gillis in 1976, has become one of the standard disaster relief tents for organisations such as FEMA, the United Nations and other humanitarian relief foundations, and similar designs are made by other companies as well.

They have been used since 1997 specifically for disaster relief, although the geodesic tent has been available for backpackers and mobile research facilities since the 1970s.

However, for many younger people, the two words that will first come to mind when they see the tent are Fyre Festival, one of the most infamous event fiascos of all time.

How did this happen, why were disaster tents even used for a luxury festival, and what happened next?

A Different Type Of Disaster 

The infamous story of the Fyre Festival is fairly well-known at this point, but a quick summary of the background of the event before looking at how emergency shelters got involved is important to explain why the tent became such an infamous symbol of the event.

Fyre was a music booking app joint venture between musician Ja Rule (best known for the song Always on Time) and businessman Billy McFarland, and the pair decided the best way to advertise the service was to create a lavish luxury festival on an island in the Bahamas.

Originally set to take place on Norman Cay, the advertising inexplicably focused heavily on the island’s past connection to Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel, forcing a swift move to Roker Point with just two months and very little money.

This led to the rapid deployment of the disaster relief tents alongside emergency mattresses to serve as the “modern, eco-friendly” domes that had been marketed and sold to festivalgoers for $12,000.

What made this worse was that the tents were left open on the day guests were set to arrive, which meant that a sudden burst of heavy rain soaked the open tents, of which there were not enough to meet even the number of people who had arrived.

By the end of the first day, 28th April, a full-blown rescue operation was undertaken and the festival goers were eventually taken to Miami.

This entire saga has given the unfair impression that the tents themselves were low quality when in reality they had a decades-long reputation for robustness and reliability in harsh weather and heavy rain.

Had they been prepared properly, the tents used would have fared very well as festival tents, but instead unfairly became a symbol of a fraudulent festival.

The design, alongside several other emergency shelters, are still protecting people in the epicentre of catastrophes, remaining the unsung heroes they always were.


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