Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Types of Shelters should we have?

FEMA invited me to come to the District on their dime and the State said I could go. This was my idea of a good time: a whole day in a room full of people talking about mass care sheltering. And the best part of it was that they invited the right people, as in the ones with knowledge and experience on the subject at hand.

The meeting focused on the arcane but important subject of mass care resource typing. I have written about this before, so if you want a longer winded explanation of the topic you can go here and here. The short version runs like this: if you're in a disaster and you need more resources, you want to be sure that when you ask for something you know what you're going to get. Resource typing helps solve this problem. For example, field kitchens cook food but not all field kitchens are the same. The Field Kitchen Resource Typing document categorizes the kitchens according to how many meals per day they can produce. A Type 1 Field Kitchen can produce over 20,000 meals a day. A Type 4 can produce up to 5,000 When a disaster happens I ask the voluntary agencies how many field kitchens they have available, by Type, so I can calculate the total capacity available.

The focus of our discussion in a conference room on the 8th floor of FEMA Headquarters on a rainy day in the District was on resource typing shelters. When I was Chairman of the Mass Care Resource Typing Workgroup from 2008-2012, we formed  a Shelter subgroup to tackle this exact problem. I didn't have a lot of experience working in shelters but I did listen to their conversations and reviewed the documents that they created. The first resources they tried to Type were Shelter Managers and Shelter Management Teams.

They immediately ran into a problem: the Type of Shelter Manager or Shelter Management Team depended on the Type of shelter they were running. That means they had to back up and categorize shelters by Type. Resource types are an indicator of capability. A Type 1 has more capability than a Type 2 or a Type 3.

So how do you define the capability of a shelter? By the number of people it could hold? That should depend on the available square footage in the shelter. But the available square footage fluctuates, in general, according to the expected length of the shelter stay. An evacuation shelter, expected to operate for 72 hours, is based on 20 sq/ft/person. A short term shelter, established to operate for up to 2 weeks, is based on 40 sq/ft/person. A long term shelter is established to operate for over 2 weeks and uses 60 sq/ft/person.

You might say that the capability of these different shelters was based on the square footage available to the individual sheltered. But it was more than that. As the length of the expected shelter stay increased the quality of the services available to the individuals sheltered also improved. The ratio of toilets and shower heads per person improved, as well as the availability of laundry services. A graphical portray of this relationship, taken from the Florida's Shelter Support Plan, is shown in the diagram below.

Resources available in Shelters over time

The Shelter Subgroup produced a beautiful document full of valuable information on shelters and shelter staffing. The document was called the Shelter Guidance Aid and Shelter Staffing Matrix. In 2010 we showed the Shelter Guidance Aid to FEMA, proud of our accomplishment, and FEMA said that they couldn't publish it. What? Why? They said resource typing was for resources that could be deployed and shelters were buildings. OK. In a major concession they agreed to let us post the document on a web site as long as we didn't say it was a federal document (which it wasn't). We put it up initially on the International Association of Venue Managers website, and later the National VOAD website.

With this document as a basis the Shelter Subgroup developed the Shelter Manager and Shelter Management Team documents that were almost identical to the documents adopted by the National Integration Center this year for use nationwide. The Type 1 Shelter Manager and Shelter Management Team were for Long Term Shelters, the Type 2 for Short Term Shelters and the Type 3 for Evacuation Shelters. This is not as clear as it should be in these Typing documents because any reference to the rationale for the Typing, the Shelter Guidance Aid, was stripped from the Typing documents before they were published.

When both of these documents were released for Public Comment in a NIMS Alert in October 2012 I could tell right away that people would be confused. Although I submitted detailed comments (basically a summary of this blog post so far) the confusion (in my opinion) wasn't cleared up when the two documents were posted as final in June 2014.

The problem was that neither of the documents defined what a Type 1 or Type 2 or Type 3 shelter was. The Shelter Management Team document had the following statement in the "Composition & Ordering Specifications" portion of the document:

"Specific types of shelters in need of a management team:
1. Temporary Evacuation Point
2. Emergency Evacuation Shelter
3. Standard/Short Term Shelter
4. Long Term/Mega Shelter"

Notice that the shelter types are numbered in inverse order of what the Shelter Subgroup intended. The only clue, an indirect one, comes from the fact that a Type 1 Shelter Management Team has a Type 1 Shelter Manager, and so on with a Type 2 and Type 3. If one has the patience and diligence one can read the fine print of the Shelter Manager document and see that a Type 1 Shelter Manager "is  responsible for providing leadership, supervision, and administrative support for a Long-Term, Mega-Shelter as defined through the American Red Cross Non-Traditional Shelter Concept of Operations Template." The Type 2 Shelter Manager "is responsible for providing supervision and administrative support for short duration shelter operations, a Standard, Short-Term Shelter." The Type 3 Shelter Manager is responsible for a, evacuation shelter.

So what is the American Red Cross Non-Traditional Shelter Concept of Operations Template? The opening pages of the document state that "This Non-Traditional Shelter Concept of Operations was created by the American Red Cross at the request of the City of Los Angeles." This is a fine and valuable document but it does not clearly define (nor, I suppose, was it intended to) the differences between a Long Term, Short Term and Evacuation shelters. I have no idea why this document was referenced rather than the Shelter Guidance Aid. I wasn't consulted when the decision was made.

I don't know. Maybe nobody else in the nation cares about this kind of stuff. The goal of FEMA is to get these new shelter typing documents out before next hurricane season. When the new documents come out next Spring, and you ask yourself, "Why in the hell did they do it this way?" maybe this blog post will give you an idea why.

I'm not saying anybody is screwing up. I spent 4 years complaining that FEMA wasn't publishing any mass care resource typing documents, in spite of the work that we were doing to create such documents. "Just publish the damn things," I said, "and hear what the community has to say about it."

So FEMA publishes documents that I don't like and I'm complaining about it. I guess FEMA is used to being complained about.