Sheltering Issues

American Red Cross, Coastal Bend-Texas Chapter

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Research shows that a building that withstood Hurricane Celia (1970 storm landfall Corpus Christ) a category 3 Hurricane, is not guaranteed to be a safe shelter in a hurricane like Hugo (1989 storm landfall in Carolinas) or Andrew (1992 storm landfall in Florida), both of which were category 4 Hurricanes.

The American Red Cross guidelines prohibit placing shelters in dangerous areas. We are not supporting people who remain in hurricane evacuation zones or areas vulnerable to storm surge.

"Our priority is saving lives," said Disaster Services Vice President John Clizbe. "To ensure the safety of our relief workers and the families they serve, the Red Cross does not establish shelters in areas that are in imminent danger of hurricane-caused damage or destruction," he added. In addition, the Red Cross does not establish shelters in evacuations zones. "If we put the Red Cross symbol on a shelter, people trust it will be reasonably safe. It is simply not safe to establish shelters in an area where people have been advised to leave by the authorities," noted Clizbe. Similarly, potential shelter sites that have structural shortcomings and poor road access will not be staffed or supplied by the Red Cross. People have an expectation of safety in Red Cross shelters, and the organization will not expose hurricane victims to continued danger by directing them to shelters of dubious safety or construction.



  1. In accordance with our mission, the primary concern of the American Red Cross in preserving lives threatened by hurricanes. This means that we cannot knowingly locate either evacuees or paid and volunteer staff in unsafe shelters.
  2. Hurricane intensities are uncertain and justify the use of worst-case scenario planning for hurricane preparedness.
  3. Given the difficulties of evacuation, people should use good judgement and those in evacuation zones or in unsafe structures should not wait for mandatory evacuation orders to be issued. Event though they might well evacuate when weaker storms strike or even miss, the cost of evacuating in these cases is far less than that of losing lives of loved ones when stronger storms do strike.
  4. Our shelter criteria are built upon the best scientific and historical information. Red Cross Guidelines for Hurricane Evacuation Shelter Selection explain hurricane shelter criteria to be applied as hurricanes threaten, approach landfall and come ashore at hurricane strength. These guidelines do not apply to shelters used after hurricane conditions have passed or for other disasters.
  5. Red Cross chapters in at-risk states are working together and with state and local emergency management agencies to assure the residents of those states that in the event of hurricane evacuations, reasonably safe shelters will be available for everyone in need.



Question: Why is the Red Cross no longer sheltering during a hurricane evacuation?

Answer: Red Cross will open shelters in safe locations (outside of evacuation zones and Category IV storm surge areas) before and during hurricanes and will, if possible open shelters in affected areas after the storm has passed.

The Red Cross has never stopped sheltering during a hurricane evacuation. Plans call for many shelters to open before hurricane landfall. However, we are concerned with preserving lives and must do all we can to ensure that we are not unnecessarily placing hurricane evacuees at risk by our evacuation shelter selection process or agreements. We have developed a position on hurricane evacuation sheltering that discusses acceptable and unacceptable risk and provides guidelines that we will use to open a Red Cross shelter. The Red Cross position is based on the best scientific and historical information available today.

Question: Are there some situations in which shelters can be opened in category 1 or 2 surge areas?

Answer: No, it is the position of the Red Cross that shelters should not be opened in any Category I and II surge areas. It is known, for example, that most deaths do not occur as a result of hurricane winds but as a result of hurricane-related flooding and storm surges. Science and hurricane history strongly support planning evacuation and sheltering for worst case events.

Due to changes in hurricane tracks, intensity and landfall, scientists cannot accurately predict hurricane intensity or landfall.


In recent history, both Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Opal in 1994 rapidly intensified without warning.


Question: What are you going to do about the areas where it is absolutely impossible to evacuate the number of those who need to be evacuated?

Answer: The general safety of the public is the responsibility of local government, and as such, they must determine how best to advise residents about the risk they face, when to evacuate, how long it will take, etc. The Red Cross works closely with state and local emergency management agencies to support the needs of these communities to the greatest extent possible.

The Red Cross will not compromise its standards of safety in order to meet demands to provide shelter to evacuees in unsafe facilities. The Red Cross also believes that opening shelters in a high-risk area communicates a dangerously false sense of security to those who might be tempted to delay evacuation or to stay in an evacuation area. The Red Cross will support local emergency management by participating in shelter selection and by providing community education on what to do to be ready for a hurricane.

Question: Will the Red Cross be using a "refuge of last resort" system?

Answer: No, the Red Cross does not operate refuges of last resort. Our goal is to operate shelters that will survive storms and protect the lives of those inhabiting them. After the storm has passed, we will staff shelters in the areas where shelters are most needed, including the risk areas.

(A "refuge of last resort" typically is a "last-ditch" option for people who have been unable, through choice or circumstance, to evacuate the risk area before the onset of storm conditions. These facilities provide a place for people to seek protection from the elements, but they are not shelters. Usually they do not provide food, drink or sleeping accommodations.)

Question: What can I expect the Red Cross to do this hurricane season?

Answer: You can expect the Red Cross to do this year what we've done for the past 119 years-to protect and save lives of individuals and families in hurricane prone areas. Red Cross disaster response has not changed. We will continue to provide sheltering, feeding and emergency assistance to those affected by hurricanes. The Red Cross will continue to work closely with local and state emergency management to identify and open safe shelters that complement government emergency management plans to protect the lives and property of citizens as a hurricane approaches. After landfall, one can expect the Red Cross to quickly be onsite providing sheltering, feeding and emergency assistance to hurricane victims.

Question: What about elderly people and those with disabilities?

Answer: Any disaster presents special challenges for elderly people and individuals with disabilities. It is the responsibility of local and state management to make sure evacuation plans are established for the evacuation of these individuals. While the Red Cross does not open "Special needs" shelters per se, all shelters are open and accessible to everyone, including those with specific needs. If the American Red Cross Disaster Health Services determines that an individual cannot be cared for properly in the Red Cross shelter environment, other arrangements will be made for the needs of that individual. Such arrangements include being sent to an appropriate health care facility or to a municipal or state designated and managed "special needs" facility.

Question: What about people with beloved pets?

Answer: American Red Cross Disaster Services has a long-standing practice of making special arrangements to accommodate persons who seek shelter in Red Cross disaster or evacuation shelters accompanied by a service animalódefined as a guide dog, signal dog or any other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. For many reasons, including public health concerns, the Red Cross has not allowed other animals in its disaster or evacuation shelters nor assumed responsibility for providing alternative arrangements for them. The Red Cross recognizes and appreciates the importance of pets to their owners and the sense of responsibility that pet owners feel toward their pets, especially in times of disaster. At all times, including times of disaster, primary responsibility for the care of pets rests with their owners, supported by animal care professionals and by public and private animal-care organizations in the local community.

In addition to community-based organizations, there are national organizations--like the National Humane Society--that can be valuable resources to owners and communities in planning for pet care during disasters. Under a statement of understanding between the Red Cross and the National Humane Society, Red Cross chapters refer disaster-caused animal care needs to the local Humane organization. Using these resources, responsible owners should plan for the safety and care of their animals during such events.