Red Cross adapts sheltering strategies to maintain safety as hurricane season begins, pandemic continues

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

July 31, 2020- Providing shelter and care after a major disaster—such as a hurricane or tropical storm—is especially challenging during a pandemic.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. Edcouch, Texas Marc Lazerow of the American Red Cross welcomes the Cantu family to their cots at a Red Cross shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Family units are grouped closer together while other cots are spaced further apart for social distance from others. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

As the 2020 hurricane season begins, Mike Arthur, the Red Cross’ regional mass care and logistics manager for Northern Ohio, updated area volunteers and staff on sheltering methods during the pandemic. Here is an overview of initiatives:

The Red Cross’ mission is to assist everyone, regardless of background or illness status. Several steps are being taken to ensure safety and provide assistance for all in need following a disaster. These include following CDC guidance to identify those with COVID-19 symptoms and adhering to public health guidelines for quarantines. In addition, each shelter will have an Isolation Care Area. Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or show signs of illness will be separated from the general shelter population.

When possible, the Red Cross will employ non-congregate sheltering. Red Cross representatives will work with partners and communities to find non-congregate options, such as hotels, dormitories and campgrounds.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. Edcouch, Texas The Cantu’s family get their temperatures checked as part of a COVID-19 screening precaution before entering a Red Cross emergency shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

When a congregate shelter is needed, ensure safety. In some cases, a congregate shelter may be the only option. In this event, the Red Cross will work to reduce the risk of infection, including:

  • Ensuring resources are available for Isolation Care Areas.
  • Requiring everyone to be screened before entering a shelter.
  • Increasing health and security staff.
  • Following social distancing practices inside the shelter.
  • Maintaining a safe environment through increased cleaning and disinfection of facilities.
  • Following safe practices when providing food and supplies and handling waste removal.
  • Providing virtual support services where possible.
  • Moving to smaller shelters and finding non-congregate housing as soon as possible.

While Northern Ohio is not prone to hurricanes, the region does experience disasters that require mass care and sheltering, such as apartment building and condominium fires. And wherever hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and other national disasters occur, many local Red Cross volunteers and staff deploy to affected areas.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. Edcouch, Texas Diana Buckley of the American Red Cross checks on Jose and his wife Maria Elvia, who needs hospice care, at a Red Cross emergency shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Additionally, every day in Northern Ohio, Red Cross staff and volunteers help people recover after a home fire. The organization is reducing COVID-19 risk in these cases as well, particularly by using virtual support as much as possible.

Hurricane Hanna 2020

July 28, 2020. La Feria, Texas Siblings, from left to right, Yakelin, 10 years old, Reyes Jr., 11 years old and Edwin, 16 years old, play with their smart phones while resting in their cots at a Red Cross emergency shelter for families displaced by Hurricane Hanna, in La Feria, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

With these and other adaptations, the Red Cross is doing all it can to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure while effectively continuing its mission. Help is needed to sustain this important work. If you are interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, information is available here. If you are able to provide financial support, please visit this page.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer