Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Shelter from the Storm: Emergency Shelters Info for Writers (and other curious humans)

This article is based on training I received in shelter management as a member of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and the Medical Reserve Corps for my county.

I have not yet written a novel that includes sheltering in place. I have, however, written about characters being sequestered to a safe house. Some similar issues come up: privacy, autonomy, the lack of availability of resources. Loss of contact with the outside world as well as the normal support systems found in friends, family, work, organizations such as places of worship. Shifts in personal choices -- the foods available, the ability to exercise as one normally does. All of the shifts and changes and loss of control can throw your character for a loop.
See how I handled these hurdles in WEAKEST LYNX.

Is there a natural disaster in your plotline?

No one wants to go to a public shelter in a disaster. And shelters can fill up quickly, so shelters really should be considered a destination of last resort.

Many of the people who go to the shelters are from circumstances that limits their abilities. Financial limitations are the biggest reason for going to a shelter, transportation is another.

There are two kinds of shelters.

Evacuation Shelter -  is pre-event and has no amenities. No cots, no food. It is just a safe place where Mother Nature would have a harder time getting to your character. 

  • Characters should be prepared to provide for themselves for the first 7 hours.
  • Bring sleeping bags, food, water, and other requirements

General Population -  post event. 
Cots, blankets, food, and water and a comfort kit are provided. comfort kits are basic hygiene items. The kids' kits don't have razor blades but might have a coloring book, etc.

They have a certain number of medical cots, which are larger than the others, they have security arms and a mattress-like addition. Usually it will need to be deemed medically necessary. 

People with disabilities will be given priority places near outlets for their medical machines such as oxygen.

The staff might try to place families with young kids nearer the bathrooms for ease

The shelters may and may not have electricity. The water, without electricity, may or may not work. It may be cold water only.

If your character had time to put together a bag (or is smart enough to have a go-bag ready...) ideas for items to include and then pull out as the plot unravels include:

  • change of clothes
  • deodorant
  • medications
  • sleeping (eye) mask 
  • ear plugs
  • favorite snacks
  • Alternate foods like MREs (for evacuation shelter)
  • flashlight
  • batteries
  • phone charger
  • Sharpie
  • pillow
  • sleeping pad
  • sleeping bag
  • deck of cards
  • wet wipes
  • dry shampoo
  • hand sanitizer
  • baseball cap
  • book(s)
  • drinks
  • extra cash
  • towel
Your character will be in a room with everyone. They are usually all in a grid formation of cots in a main room. Everyone together: men, women, and children. The staff will try to group: 
  • single women
  • single men
  • families

No one is turned away: 
  • That means pediphiles are in the same room as the children. 
  • People are not required to show identification, so anyone can sign in with any name.

The names of the people inside the shelter are protected. If someone shows up at the shelter looking for an individual, the staff will not confirm or deny if they are there. They will take a name and contact information and post it on a bulletin board. Now, an under trained staff member, or a particularly charming bad-guy might cause a lapse in this protection, so your heroine on the run might think she's safe might not be.

People who want to be found can post their names to the Red Cross bulletin board called Safe and Well.


Service Dogs - are protected by national ADA laws. They are allowed in.

Comfort Dogs/Emotional Support Dogs - are NOT allowed in.

Pets - Are not allowed into the shelter.

However, comfort/emotional support dogs and pets are housed, when at all possible in the parking lot in their own shelter. Your character should call first - or not, this might be the place where your character decides if Fido can't go into the shelter, then she will just tough it out in her car...

There is a schedule in the shelters.
  • Lights 
    • Lights on - whether your character wants to get up or not (hence the sleeping mask)
    • Light off - even if your character was in the middle of something important.
  • Food
    • breakfast
    • lunch
    • dinner
    • on going snack and water is usually available.
    • NOTE: Food and liquids other than water by law, can not be consumed in the sleeping area. All snacking must be done elsewhere. The exception is for diabetics.
Sometimes, those in the shelter are given armbands.

The doors are locked and monitored. 

I imagine that you see all the problems as well as the heroism that you could contrive. It can be a wonderful experience for your character -- a safe, comforting experience; the plot trajectory could also turn quite dramatically in the direction of bad.

I hope this helped!

As always, when you buy and enjoy my books, you are helping me to continue this blog and bring you articles that hopefully will give you ideas for your writing. 

Best wishes with your stories!