State ready to shelter evacuees

Pro golfers look to cash in at Capital One Classic
June 12, 2007
Beverly Boudreaux
June 14, 2007
Pro golfers look to cash in at Capital One Classic
June 12, 2007
Beverly Boudreaux
June 14, 2007

Dear Editor,

As the 200 hurricane season begins, Louisiana stands more ready than ever to shelter evacuees in the event of an emergency, due in great part to parish leaders who have stepped forth in commitment to citizen safety.

Today, the state projects it can accommodate up to 92,680 evacuees, including 67,000 spaces in in-state general-population shelters, along with agreements to place 14,000 in out-of-state shelters in Arkansas and Alabama.

Last year, the state started the 2006 hurricane season with an estimated capacity of 55,000 for general-population shelters and created a new category – Critical Transportation Needs Shelters, for those evacuees who need state assistance in getting out of harm’s way. The new category created an additional capacity of 10,000.

Two years ago, in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 45,000 was the highest number of evacuees housed in-state at planned general-population shelters.

So you can see that capacity in in-state general-population shelters alone has increased nearly 49 percent since the devastation of 2005, an increase directly attributable to the diligent effort of host parishes and the Louisiana Shelter Task Force, a coalition of host parishes. While shelter numbers are dynamic throughout the hurricane season, Louisiana clearly shows a trend of growth in preparation and a realistic sense of the available spaces that can be resourced.

The Shelter Task Force also manages the nine shelter information points, located along evacuation routes when an evacuation is ordered to provide the most up-to-date information about the nearest shelters with available space.

DSS, as lead state agency for Emergency Support Function 6, “Mass Care, Housing and Human Services,” is sincerely grateful to our parish partners. As ESF-6 lead, we coordinate and aggregate general population capacity while actual operations are carries by the parishes.

Here’s a breakdown of current capacity:

€ 67,000 spaces in General Population Shelters (GPS), operated in “host” parishes by local emergency preparedness officials, sometimes with the aid of partners such as American Red Cross.

€ 24,000 spaces in Critical Transportation Needs Shelters (CTNS) for residents who require transportation assistance in getting out of harm’s way, including 10,000 in-state and 14,000 out-of-state spaces.

€ 1,400 spaces in Medical Special Needs Shelters (MSNS) for patients requiring medical assistance with daily activities, operated jointly by DSS and the Department of Health and Hospitals.

€ 280 spaces in the Shelter for Unique Population (SUP), for registered sex offenders.

These numbers reflect “resourced space,” meaning not only that there’s a building available for use, but that plans are already in place for its staffing and provisions. And in addition to the agreements with Arkansas and Alabama, we can request additional assistance if needed from other states and the federal government through the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Plans are based on an estimated 250,000 shelter spaces that may be needed in a worst-case scenario, a catastrophic event requiring the entire coastal region of 12 parishes to be evacuated.

The state is doing everything it can to be ready for what the National Weather Service projects to be an above-normal season with 7-10 hurricanes estimated. As the state and parishes continue their preparation, we ask that each individual citizen also get ready: Review your evacuation guide, buy your supplies, plan on where you’ll go, and listen to your local leaders when asked to evacuate.

Ann Silverberg Williamson

Secretary, Department of Social Services