Most people see a disaster unfold on TV. Within hours the news will report that shelters are being set up at certain locations and for people in danger to relocate as quickly as possible.  In the next couple of days the news will take about the numbers of shelters open in the area, the lack of space and supplies to handle all the people in need of care during the emergency. As you review and diagnose the problems presented by the reporters you might think that will never happen HERE? 

  • I'm sure the local government has this well planned out.
  • FEMA will bring in giant trailers of everything that's needed. After all this is what my tax dollars are for.
  • Big Charities will rush in providing a warm place to stay, hot food, water and lighting, health care and a whole host of over resources as the shelter opens.
  • Highly trained professionals will have the shelter all set up and ready to receive you and your family maybe like a gymnasium that is converted into a some sort of youth hostel - Right?
The realities are different today than the image we have from TV and movies of disaster films.
  1. Your local government has a large role to play in natural and man-made disasters. But the amount of pre-planning, funding, preparedness stockpiles and assistance varies wildly from place to place. Most cities have relied on Charities to run in and provide this function. So cities and communities really never funded for creating emergency shelters feeding and emergency first aid ad health care. After Hurricane Katrina and other large disasters most communities know they need to be ready and fully stocked but still don't set aside yearly funds for this purpose. In fact, Cities do budget for things like destroyed police vehicles, but not for cots, blankets and emergency supplies for a disaster without a push from the citizens.

  2. FEMA is the federal agency that largely provides money for disaster repairs AFTER a disaster. They help localities after a disaster pay to repair infrastructure (roads, debris removal, utilities, schools etc.)  The current administration has cut funds for disaster preparedness grants to communities. (This is how many  communities get things like an additional fire truck or rescue training)  The federal government has also disrupted many flood control programs for 2018-2019 and projects to mitigate (reduce damage before a disaster)  It is also a myth that FEMA has tons of supplies and thousands of uniformed and professionals that rush in unlimited quantities of food, water, ice, generators, security services etc. (FEMA will try to pre-station supplies of what they have but it's far less than what is needed.) 

  3.  Until Hurricane Katrina it was largely assumed that groups like American Red Cross would instantly arrive and provide almost all sheltering and feeding for the duration of the disaster. Groups like Red Cross, Salvation Army don't have prostocked emergency supplies in all counties of the country. 

SO what do you need to create a shelter from scratch.

Once you have decided on the buildings you will use for a shelter and decided on the rooms and parts of the facility that will be used - here are the basic supplies:

Emergency Cots

Basic sleeping cots that can be brought in and out quickly.  We recommend cots already on rolling carts to reduce the number of people needed to set up and take down and put away for the next use. Our 40 person standard cot system will let you store emergency cots in site, in a trailer or be delivered by local truck fast and easy. roll just 5 carts in and set a sleeping for 200 people.

You will also need more blankets then cots. Remember also that blankets get wet, dirty thrown up on lost so plan to have extra.

Special Medical Populations

As some people, have special medical needs, they can not sleep flat on cots and must be propped up for breathing or circulation issues. we recommend a this special needs rolling module with several adjustable hospital style beds that are used for sleeping and/or for the first aid area of the shelter.  

First aid and Medical Care

Emergency relief shelters need to be able to provide first aid and basic medical care for the occupants. people are under stress and may come in injured or ill. It is not fair to ask a retired nurse to volunteer to take care of people and not have the right supplies on-hand.  we have found these two levels of  shelter medical kits work well for populations in a shelter. Our higher level kit shelter first aid station includes more diagnostic tools that medial professionals need to work. These kits virtually eliminate an ambulance standing by full time at the shelter.


Each shelter should have some signs and signage. that is each to set up to direct people, cars, designate areas that are off limits etc. Our signs and magnets can be made to fit your needs long before a disaster strikes. No one wants people using markers or spray paint on schools or gyms because they did not have simple signs.

A way to register people in the shelter.

Using a laptop or even basic office supplies to record who is in the shelter is important. People from across the country are looking for information on loved ones. a system will need to be put in place for this function. (ask for help for your city's plan about this) having plenty of pens, paper tablets and other office supplies packed in a box gets you started registering people in the shelter.

Cleaning Supplies - Lots of them

In a shelter almost immediately it's difficult to keep it clean and smelling nice. People may also be coming in dirty from the disaster. So people are trying to clean themselves with paper towels fro the restroom. Except to use 3-5 more toilet paper and other paper products than usual. The restrooms should constantly be restocked and cleaned every two hours during the day and 4 hours at night. Have an active plumber on standby to keep the plumbing working in the shelters 24/7. It saves money to have a plumber fixing problems as they happen and not days after. Also have the ability of portable toilets that can be brought in if there are not enough restrooms available. Portable toilets need to be emptied every 8 hours min.

Your plan must have many large cases of supplies each day per shelter. Volunteers need to wipe down tables, chairs, handrails, food areas, play areas, and toys TVs continually to prevent colds, flu, even norovirus from making people sick. 

Can I charge my phone?

A high school has about 2-6 phone lines into or out of the facility.  Today most people rely on using there cell phones for phone calls, texting, entertainment and more but disaster usually put a crimp in that plan. Even if the cell towers are working near a shelter they can't handle 100-300 trying to use them at the same time. Also a typical gym may only have about 12 plugs in the whole room so considering a solution to be able to recharge all these phones may reduce a lot of headaches for you and the occupants. 

Consider cantacting your local amatuer radio club (HAMs) about emergency communications and power. They are experts in solutions in keeping radios working and charged. These volunteers may be able to come with charging station pre-built for this problem.