Functional Friday: Evacuation and Shelters

Every local government is tasked with providing the necessary support for the residents in the midst of an emergency or disaster.  Most areas have a coordinated emergency plan that includes receiving assistance from other jurisdictions and agencies.  (If you want to know your city, county, or state's disaster plan, you need to ask them.)  One of the services that a local government may need to provide is evacuation and emergency sheltering.  When residents are in immediate or eminent danger, without some critical service or utility, or unable to occupy their own homes, the local government should be able to provide a means of transportation to a reasonable location for these residents to stay temporarily.  I am certainly not giving any legal advice, if you want to know the government's obligation to serve or someone's right to receive services (or not receive), consult an attorney.  I am however hoping to offer some tips that might help you, someone you care about, or your community, if you find that evacuation and sheltering is necessary.

Your go-bag needs to be ready for this scenario.  Have the supplies that you need to grab and go out the door in an emergency.  You'll often return home within 24 hours; pack what you'll need (at a minimum) for three days.  Pack seven days or more of critical medications and medical supplies, special dietary requirements, or other critical items.

Shelters are inconvenient - Have another plan!  Serving as a place to stay that's better than nowhere, shelters are simply not ideal.  There are lines for the bathroom.  The food can be sub-par.  The cots are often uncomfortable.  The noise can be disturbing.  Kids are restless, yours or otherwise.  Make sure you have written into your emergency plan at least one place that you and your family (including pets) can go and stay if you are forced to leave your house.

Shelters generally do not allow pets.  Make solid alternate plans for your pets in an emergency.  Local governments should be able accommodate the transportation and transfer or your pet if it's in a pet carrier and has the proper food and equipment required for it's care.  Emergency resident shelters, however, will generally not allow your pet to stay with you.  Have a plan that keeps you together or be prepared to be separated.

Don't plan on a hotel being your shelter.  Many hotels are affected by the disaster, too.  Operational hotels for miles around will often book up immediately after a disaster.  Public, private, government, media and utility workers will flood the area to assist, inspect, appraise, advise, and report.  If you get a room, great!  (Confirm that you can reserve your room for an unlimited amount of time.)  The hotel  should charge the standard rate, but several nights can add up fast and may not be covered by insurance or government assistance.  Better to know a nearby, but out-of-town, contact to stay with.

I strongly discourage you from sheltering the public yourself.  Agencies and organizations spend many hours and dollars preparing to shelter others in an emergency.  Many important details and weighty expenses are invisible to the untrained individual.  There are liabilities involved, as well.  If your company or organization is sincerely interested in sheltering those in need, contact an experienced organization and get some training.  Or invite them to include your facility as a possible shelter location.

In many states, you not required to evacuate.  Inevitably, the media interviews someone on television that's going to "ride it out."  Weather and other disasters are unpredictable and inconsistent.  You would not be asked to evacuate if the situation were not deemed to be highly unstable and potentially disastrous.  If you do stay, be prepared to go without any assistance for days.

If you have functional needs, let the shelter know immediately.  In many areas the police and/or fire and rescue will also keep an advanced registry of residents that have needs that require special accommodations.  Get your name on that list, if they have one.  Many times, necessary requests can be met with adequate notification.  (Dietary needs, medical requirements, prescription refills.)  Also, take a moment right now to consider your neighbors.  Do you know anyone you that might require special assistance during a disaster or evacuation?  An elderly lady, a single mom with latch key kids, a man in a wheel chair, an immigrant family that speaks little English, a family member on oxygen or IV medication, a couple with no car, someone with reduced mental faculties, a neighbor's daughter with diabetes, someone with religious requirements.  Is there something that you could do now or during an emergency to assist them?  (Have you considered asking?)

Support and assist the organizations that provide emergency shelters.  Sheltering can be dirty, tiring, thankless work.  But thanks to many generous organizations, we do not leave victims sleeping and living in the streets.  If helping those in desperate need and emotional upheaval is your "cup of tea", train and volunteer with an organization the feeds and shelters thousands of citizens every year.  Chances are you'll benefit from the opportunity.  The rest of us need to provide the financial support that these agencies require to continue their work.

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