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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: January 28, 2004
No: 04-02

Medical shelter latest to use airbeam technology

NATICK, Mass. -- Unpack, unroll and inflate. With airbeams, setting up a soft shelter is that easy, and the Future Medical Shelter System is the latest effort of the Fabric Structures Team at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center here using the technology.

The Future Medical Shelter System is an advanced medical shelter designed to be the next-generation Chemically Protected Deployable Medical Systems (CP DEPMEDS) to improve shelter quality for medical personnel, according to Amy Leighton, a chemical engineer on the Fabric Structures Team.

"Our main driver is to allow Soldiers to rapidly deploy and allow medical personnel to quickly get to work in a clean environment," she said. "Even if there's not an immediate (chemical or biological agent contamination) threat, it gets them out of the dust and sand."

The current CP DEPMEDS connects a series of TEMPER tents and ISO containers linked together with passageways to offer nearly 32,000 square feet of treatment space. Up to 140 staff members can treat as many as 236 patients for three days in a clean, climate-controlled atmosphere.

As a forward-deployed combat support hospital, mobility is high priority. This type of treatment facility gives troops immediate medical care to stabilize them enough to transfer to a more permanent hospital if necessary, according to Leighton.

Reduced logistics and speedy setup and takedown are prominent advantages of the new system.

A 64-foot length of connected TEMPER tents takes 18 troops about 40 minutes to set up compared to four troops in 15-20 minutes for the same length of airbeam shelters. Instead of locating, connecting and inserting the metal frame parts into the TEMPER tents, troops handle a single item with four airbeams integrated into the rugged yet lighter fabric of each 32-foot section of the Future Medical System shelter.

Once spread out, the airbeams are inflated to 40 psi with a commercial air compressor that automatically shuts off when filled. A generator is needed to power the compressor, although one variation of the system uses a self-powered air compressor operating on liquid fuel. The tent is then anchored into the ground with stakes for stability.

Weight of the shelter plummets from nearly 2,700 pounds to 1,200 pounds. Manufactured by Vertigo, Inc. in Lake Elsinore, Calif., the braided high-strength polyester material of the airbeams has also cut the cost significantly and improved durability, Leighton said.

"Some people are under the impression that you have to frequently check the (air) pressure," she said. "It's a lot more reliable today. Leakage had been a problem. You had to check the pressure every few days to every few weeks, but we've had shelters like this up for months at a time without losing pressure."

Higher pressure allows the Future Medical Shelter System to be designed with four instead of eight airbeams. The Chemical and Biological Protected Shelter now fielded uses low-pressure beams while the developmental Wide Span Air Beam Shelter for aircraft maintenance uses high pressure.

In development for about one year, the Future Medical Shelter System was first demonstrated at the Soldier Systems Center in October. Two 32-foot by 20-foot modular airbeam tents were connected, representing pre- and post-operative care areas. Leighton said it's the first time two airbeam tents have been connected.

"This gives medical personnel an open architecture without connecting passageways or tent poles obstructing their view," she said. "That's important so that staff can see a larger area and watch patients more easily."

As with the CP DEPMEDS, a system of litter and ambulatory airlocks, protective entrances, blowers and filters will be included in the system.

Contaminated air is kept out by creating a steady overpressure by drawing in outside air, filtering it and then blowing it into the shelters. Lighting and power distribution are standard items with an optional hard flooring available.

The Fabric Structures Team and Vertigo have scheduled another demonstration of the Future Medical System in Fort Detrick, Md., in February. The next step will be to take shelters to training sites for further evaluation.

Although the major push is with medical shelters, shelters for other uses, such as command posts, may adopt the technology in years ahead, Leighton said.

For more information about the Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at

This page last updated on 23 January 2004.