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Hurricane Series: Could your facility be a shelter?

If your organization is in an area that frequently experiences hurricanes, you may want to consider offering your facility as a temporary shelter. However, before doing so, consider first whether you have the resources you need to provide a safe place for those seeking refuge. Church Mutual works with customers to determine whether their facility could be a good shelter.

First, consider contacting the American Red Cross or similar organizations to understand the requirements and process for becoming designated as an emergency shelter location. Involving organizations such as the Red Cross allows your organization to be guided by their expertise in serving as a shelter and can also provide a measure of liability protection.

If your facility meets the space and other requirements for serving as an emergency shelter, you should have the following:

  • Areas in where victims can care for their personal needs – Not only do the people who are staying in your facility need places to use the bathroom, shower and sleep, but they also may require changing stations for young children. Additionally, there should be a separate area for registration and reception.
  • An emergency supply kit – Those using your shelter may just need to stay for a few hours, or they may be there for weeks. Create an emergency supply kit that includes:
    • A three-day supply of safe drinking water, with at least one gallon for each person each day.
    • A roster with the names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone using the facility.
    • A first-aid kit.
    • At least a three-day supply of food that does not require refrigeration.
    • Extra clothing.
    • Personal supplies, such as toothbrushes, deodorant, tissues and toilet paper.
    • A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities if necessary.
    • A flashlight.
    • A battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with toner alert.
    • Regular household bleach and a medicine dropper for water decontamination.
  • Adequate security – In the wake of some hurricanes, well-meaning organizations that have volunteered their facility as a shelter have found themselves in over their head. As a result, shelter guests became victims of theft and assault. If you do not have enough space to provide private quarters for all guests, you should have volunteers staffing the facility around the clock to provide protection. Offer guests a locked, secure space where they can store their valuables.
  • A plan for housekeeping – While you likely already have a staff member or volunteer who provides custodial services for your facility, you will need extra help. Even five people staying in your building for several days can create a mess; you should establish a schedule and stick to it.
  • A plan for responding to a medical emergency – Know the easiest way to transport guests to a local hospital. If transportation is impossible, find out if any staff, volunteers or guests have medical training.
  • A plan for COVID-19 – While the threat posed by COVID-19 has lessened with widespread distribution of vaccines, an organization seeking to serve as an emergency shelter should consult with its local public health department regarding suggested safety measures related to the pandemic. The CDC has posted interim guidance for general population disaster shelters on its website.

While serving as an emergency shelter can be helpful, it also takes careful preparation and engagement with a number of volunteers. Make sure you are fully prepared for the responsibility.

Read more about hurricane safety, preparedness and recovery:

What is your organization doing to prepare for severe weather?

See how you can prepare and protect your organization from nature’s destructive forces by viewing our 10 Essentials of Severe Weather Preparedness. Then take action and step up your severe weather and natural disaster preparedness efforts by utilizing our Severe Weather Preparedness AssessmentHurricane Tabletop Exercise and Hurricane Exercise Evaluation.

For more severe weather information and resources, visit