Setting Up Camp at OWS

by on September 13th, 2010
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There are two main considerations before setting up living quarters on an “Occupy” site. The number one concern is your own health and safety. The other consideration is to comply with the permits imposed by any given city. With winter weather fast approaching it is likely that inexperienced campers will be using heating elements inside their living structures. The risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning increases. City governments are using the fire and carbon monoxide hazard argument as one of the reasons to close down or hinder the OWS encampments. Ordinances in many cities also forbid the use of semi-permanent and permanent structures.

Materials used to build a structure at an OWS encampment should be fire retardant or fireproof as should any sleeping bags and other materials inside the living space. The OWS encampments in many cities consist of a great number of tents squeezed together into a very small space. Should one catch fire the entire encampment could go up in flames within minutes. It is also wise to try to avoid using heating elements inside the structure and to equip it with with a battery operated fire detector and carbon monoxide detector. Please also use common sense, don’t smoke or use any type of open flame inside.

That said – in colder climates another consideration is snowload. Sage Radachowsky of Occupy Boston created a sturdy, portable shelter out of an old TV cabinet. He then added wheels and a hitch so that the structure is now considered temporary and therefore complies with city ordinances. Dick Fischbeck’s RanDome method is another way to construct a very sturdy, resistant shelter. For a RanDome aluminum sheeting can provide the sturdiest resistance against snow accumulation while still providing a relatively lightweight structure.

While aluminum is UV resistant, rustproof and fireproof it does not allow natural light to get in. Try combining aluminum sheeting with fire retardant polyethylene plastic when building the structure. Another idea is to create a skylight using a plastic soda bottle filled with water and a few drops of chlorine bleach .

A few other things to consider when building a RanDome:

Any cuts made for doors weakens the entire structure. The geodesity of the RanDome is based on all the vertex elements pushing and pulling against each other. Obviously you need at least one door, in a larger structure it would be best to have at least two so there is an emergency escape route.
Aluminum sheeting has sharp edges, use work gloves while building and pad the edges of the door entrance so no one cuts themself entering and exiting the structure.
A threshold on the door opening is stronger against snowload than just cutting all the way down to the ground. It is not a bad idea to play it safe though and brush off any snow accumulation.
A fireproof tarp can be draped over the RanDome for added insulation or a tent could be set up inside.
Mr. Fischbeck often uses plain nuts and bolts with washers to put together his RanDomes and he often uses rectangles instead of circles. He finds that overlapping two rectangles provides added strength to the structure and provides an extra seal against leakage at the point of the vertex element. Here is a video of two ways to make a vertex element in this fashion. You can experiment as well to come up with an even better way.
A mechanical drill will be necessary to speed up up the process if you are going to be using nuts and bolts because you need to drill a hole into the elements as you build.
Stake the RanDome firmly to the ground to prevent it from blowing away.

Dick Fischbeck: Personal Interview with the inventor of the patented RanDome Emergency Shelter
Sam Graham-Felsen, “Our Valley Forge Moment,” Good Cities, November 10, 2011

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