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What is a FEMA Trailer?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer is a type of housing issued by the United States government. Commonly called a FEMA trailer, the design is meant to be temporary. They are generally used to house those displaced by natural disasters when there is no other solution for the residents of the affected region. These trailers gained popular distinction following the FEMA emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, housing refugees of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast community.

A FEMA trailer is basically designed to allow residents of an impacted area to have a place to live while they repair their normal housing. Often, in the case of hurricanes or floods, traditional housing is heavily damaged. The residents need time to gut and repair their houses, especially when many of the contractors of the area were displaced themselves. While this process is undertaken, FEMA provides the emergency housing.

FEMA trailers come fully loaded with furnishings for use by the occupants. The design is centered around a large single room which operates as a living area. It has a kitchen with a stove, refrigerator and microwave as well as a bathroom and master bedroom. Hot and cold running water is supplied, as is air conditioning and heating. The FEMA trailers are mass-produced, so the layout and furnishing is nearly identical in each model.

The power supply of the FEMA trailer is electrical and propane. They are also fitted with access to telephone, cable and Internet services. While FEMA supplies the trailer, the residents are responsible for the water supply, electrical service, and other features through private companies. All minor details become the responsibility of the resident, including changing light bulbs and filling the propane tanks. To ensure the trailers are being kept in good condition, they are inspected each month by authorities.

Since 1906, the federal government has managed temporary housing for residents impacted by natural disasters. The San Francisco earthquake of the same year required the creation of shacks to act as interim housing. FEMA trailer implementation in the modern sense was first seen following the damage from Hurricane Andrew in South Florida in August 1992. The large-scale use of the concept, however, came after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita impacted the Gulf Coast in 2005.

A number of health problems have been identified in various FEMA trailers, particularly due to the high levels of formaldehyde. Apparently, the material is used during the construction process and can leave residues on furnishings. This may cause breathing problems, eye irritation, nosebleeds and overall sickness in those exposed to formaldehyde. Throughout the late 2000s, this became both a legal and political matter, impacting the FEMA organization.

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