Emergency Shelters



A basic emergency management function is to coordinate the opening and operating of public shelters. Many shelters in Virginia operate under a management system developed by the American Red Cross (ARC). Shelter staffing can include any combination of municipal, social services, and school employees with ARC volunteers.

Concerning shelter operations, there are a number of points that require clarification for the public:

  • Emergency shelters provide emergency, short-term shelter to the public.
  • Emergency shelters outside the storm surge and flood zones provide a safer place for people who must leave the hazard areas. All shelters in the path of a hurricane are subject to high winds.
  • Individuals coming to shelters must bring a complete supply of items to support their stay in the shelter. Emergency shelters provide no cots or bedding. Supplies such as food and water may not be available.
  • Pets cannot go to the shelters. Individuals need to consider other options that include kennels or the SPCA. Only daily living assistance animals can stay with their owner in the shelter.
    (see also Pets and Animals below)
  • Emergency shelters operate under ARC guidelines and provide basic first aid only. Individuals receiving home health care should consult their physician or home health provider concerning plans for health care needs and possible evacuation during an emergency.
  • In major hurricanes, inland host shelters will be available in central and western Virginia.

Emergency Shelter Listings

Each locality has identified a listing of facilities (usually public schools) that become emergency shelters. However, some of these facilities may not open for hurricanes. Consequently, to avoid public confusion and a risk to public safety, the public needs to listen to local radio and TV for the listing of shelters that will open and when they will open. If they miss the announcement, they should call the public information number for their jurisdiction to confirm shelter openings and locations. Emergency managers weigh the need for timely decisions in opening of shelters to provide the public with enough forewarning to plan accordingly.


In-place Sheltering or Staying at Home

People who live in storm surge zones receive a great deal of information on various sheltering options, but everyone in coastal Virginia is at some level of risk. This means everyone needs to do preparedness even if your home is reasonably safe and outside flood zones. A new idea for hurricane preparedness is the safe room. The concept comes from the tornado regions of the Midwest where residents learn to identify a central area in a structure away from windows and doors and on the first floor. Bathrooms, central hallway closets, or areas under stairwells provide the best locations. In hurricanes, families move into these areas with their disaster supply kits, flashlights, and portable radios or NOAA weather radios and stay there through the peak of the storm. This area not only provides protection from the wind, but also from tornadoes associated with hurricanes.


Pets and Animals in Disasters

Because pets are not allowed in the shelters, people need to plan alternative care for their dog, cat, or birds before they go to the public shelter. One avenue is to check with the local veterinarian or kennel to see if they can manage additional boarders. Pet owners should attach city or county registration and identification tags securely to the pet's collar. Vaccinations should be current. Owners of large animals, such as horses, should also have a plan and make necessary arrangements for their animals. For information on pet care, people should contact their veterinarian or Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).


This information was provided by the

Last Update: 01 June 2015