We recently toured a Red Cross shelter that was set up during a mock disaster. We participated in a class explaining the details of shelter operations. Emergency shelters are certainly a great blessing for disaster relief. We are grateful to those who volunteer and donate time and resources to help others in a crisis. Here are a few things that we learned.
The Red Cross is chartered by the federal government, but is privately funded through charitable donations. Many church organizations partner with the American Red Cross to provide needed resources and volunteers.
The Red Cross does not deploy until they are officially called by emergency responders or government officials. After the call, they must round up volunteers and resources. They may be able to respond to a house fire call in a few hours or set up a disaster shelter in 3 days, but recently it took 2 weeks before they were able to respond after a hurricane. Our tour guide repeatedly emphasized the need for individuals to have a 3-5 day survival kit and at least 2 weeks of food and necessities in their homes. Do not depend on any help to arrive for at least several days in the best of situations.
Once a shelter is established they usually provide 2 hot meals a day, snacks, a cot, blanket, and basic hygiene items to residents. Emergency funds may be issued to those who have lost everything to purchase necessities, usually at a local thrift store. Vouchers may be issued for medication or other critical needs.
Anyone entering a shelter is required to fill out a very detailed application. You submit to the rules of the shelter management. No weapons, drugs, alcohol or pets are allowed in the shelter for starters. The shelter requires that you:
- Respect quiet hours.
- Control your children.
- Keep your area clean.
- Register when you arrive.
- Smoke ONLY in designated areas.
- Help keep the shelter clean.
- Sign in when entering and sign out when leaving.
- Keep food and beverages in designated areas.
The shelter environment is highly structured and residents are required to comply. Structure provides needed security and predictability for those whose world is in chaos. Information is disseminated during scheduled resident’s meetings. Critical status updates are provided as needed.
Men, women, and families are separated into different sleeping areas. However, privacy is very limited. The Red Cross agent informed us that they will never disclose names of the shelter occupants. If a husband is looking for his wife or a mother for her children, they will not verify whether or not they are in the shelter. Messages may be placed on a bulletin board and later checked for a response. This may be very frustrating when trying to reunite family members.
Police are not allowed inside of the shelter, even with a search warrant. This creates a safe haven for criminals. I had a hard time believing that law enforcement could be completely restricted from entering a shelter, but each of the volunteers assured me that information was correct. How safe would my family really be in a shelter?
Recognizing the many dangers of living in the shelter environment, we have made plans to take care of ourselves in a disaster. We have created a network that will help each other in times of need over a large geographical area. If the disaster strikes in our neighborhood, our friends are prepared to shelter us at their home and in return we are ready to receive them. We have arranged with family or friends in our city, in neighboring cities and even in another state. That being said, I’m very grateful to all those who make these emergency shelters available in the event that my best efforts fail.
Are you ready to take care of your family when disaster strikes? Are your survival kits ready with fresh supplies? Could you survive without outside help for two weeks or more? Now is a great time to work on that.