At the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, two hospitals—with 2,600 total patient beds—were assembled using simple steel frames in just 10 days. It’s a test case for how factory-built, rapidly deployable emergency buildings can empower communities to respond faster and potentially save thousands of lives in a crisis. It’s also an example of what can be done through technology, hard work, and determination. But not all modular prefabrication is created equal.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is providing a real-world opportunity for prefabrication to help mitigate a crisis (be it a storm or a virus), that doesn’t mean complex, master-planned hospitals with large patient towers will pop up in less than two weeks—at least not any time soon. Certain aspects of prefabrication can help immediately, some can help midterm, and some represent long-term solutions to prepare the world for pandemics of the future.

The Immediate Response
As the demand for hospital beds increased in the past couple of months, emergency-management responders have turned to venues such as hotels and dormitories. These buildings contain rooms, beds, and the basic infrastructure a health-care setting needs, but they lack the ability to be quickly retrofitted.

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