Edited Version of September 15, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation

"Hurricane Shelter Study in the Gulf Coast States"

Dr. Marc Levitan
Acting Director Hurricane Center
Louisiana State University

Andy Crawford
Hurricane Program Manager
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency

Amy Sebring
Moderator - EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the September 15, 1999 online Virtual Forum presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the speakers to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum!

Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/990915.htm>.

We will have a presentation for about thirty minutes, and then have audience Q&A for the last thirty minutes. We will review the instructions for Q&A as we are about to begin that portion.

If you are with us for the first time, please note that URL's are active links. And if you click on them, the page will load in your browser window.

If you have been following events associated with hurricane Floyd, you can understand that folks in Florida are pretty busy at the moment, and are unable to join us today. I have picked up some relevant information from the media and situation reports.

This apparently is the largest evacuation ever attempted. As of yesterday evening, for the state of Florida alone, 169 general shelters were occupied by 23,783 persons, and an additional 35 special needs shelters were caring for 4,053 individuals.

We are pleased to have with us two individuals to talk about their experience with the Hurricane Shelter Identification study in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.


First, we are happy to welcome back Dr. Marc Levitan, Acting Director of the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Associate Professor of Civil Engineering. If you were with us last week, Marc shared his research on wind hazards for chemical plants. In preparing for that session, we learned that Marc has been involved with the Hurricane Shelter Identification study for the state of Louisiana, and we asked him to tell us about it today.

Also joining us from the state of Mississippi is Andy Crawford, Hurricane Program Manager for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, to tell us about their experience with the study.

Welcome to you both gentlemen, and Marc, we will begin with you please.


Marc Levitan: Thank you, Amy.

Hurricane Shelter Assessment

The origin of the shelter assessment program was a cooperative effort by the State of Louisiana Office of Emergency Management and other Gulf Coast state emergency management agencies. Together, the state agencies approached FEMA requesting financial support for the development of comprehensive evaluation criteria for use in selecting hurricane shelter locations.

Funding was provided to Gulf Coast states to support the development and use of hurricane shelter assessment guidelines. The State of Florida in cooperation with University of Florida's School of Building Construction, prepared a detailed hurricane shelter site evaluation worksheet and guide (1997). The worksheet reflected requirements of the American Red Cross Guidelines for Mass Care and Guidelines for Hurricane Evacuation Shelter Selection. The site evaluation worksheet considers 15 key aspects related to life safety issues.

In 1997, the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness contracted with Prof. John Pine (LSU Institute for Environmental Studies) and me to perform a shelter assessment for the state. Between January and March 1998, a series of "Hurricane Shelter Selection" workshops were conducted by LSU faculty for Louisiana's state and local emergency management officials. The workshops were to introduce local officials to the state's hurricane shelter assessment process and selection criteria.

The Louisiana shelter task force along with staff from the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness analyzed the wind and storm surge risks associated with a Gulf Coast hurricanes. Parishes in the northern half of the state were considered less vulnerable to the storm surge and winds associated with hurricanes than parishes in the southern half of the state. As a result, the initial assessment of hurricane shelters in the state was to take place in the southern half of Louisiana (see Figure 1).


Parishes in the southern half of the state were categorized as either "at risk" or host parishes. Parishes in the "at risk" zone would be subject to greatest winds and storm surge from Gulf of Mexico hurricanes.

The Louisiana hurricane emergency response plan calls for an evacuation of the population in a category 4 storm if the parish lies in the path of the storm. For "at risk" parishes, hurricane shelters could be opened if the tract of the storm did not place the parish in the most severe storm surge and wind from the hurricane.


Assessments consisted of site visits, plan reviews (when plans were available), facility walk downs, and reviews of flooding and hazardous materials threats. Information was gathered in 15 key areas relating to life safety issues.

Table 1: "Hurricane Shelter Evaluation Criteria," lists the major categories addressed on the hurricane shelter assessment form.


All of this information was compiled on a long series of worksheets, and then summarized on a "shelter compliance form." Each of the 15 criteria was assessed as either "preferred," "acceptable," or "marginal." Numerous technical factors were considered in determining the rating for any one of the major evaluation components.

Ratings initially developed by Florida were modified somewhat for local conditions by Louisiana State Office of Emergency Preparedness staff and used in the evaluation of shelters in Louisiana.

The ratings were composed of three categories including "preferred," acceptable," and "Marginal. A "Preferred" rating is one in which the site exceeds the evaluation criteria; an "acceptable" rating indicates that the site meets the evaluation criteria; a "marginal" evaluation is the least acceptable category. The "marginal" rating suggests that there are problems with the site that may be corrected; the rating could also mean that while some parts of the structure are not suitable some areas within the site are appropriate for use as a hurricane shelter.

Since opening shelters is a local government emergency management function, participation in the shelter assessment project was voluntary. A total of 26 out of 34 parishes in the study area participated in the hurricane shelter assessment project. The total number of shelters evaluated in these parishes was 188 sites.

As a part of the shelter assessment process, a report was provided to each parish participating in the project. The feedback included the summary compliance form, which summarized the structural evaluation of each site as a hurricane shelter. The report included maps showing the relative location of shelters to flood zones, sites with hazardous materials and storm surge areas to category 4 storms. Local officials used the shelter assessment reports in their final selection of shelters to be used in the event of a hurricane.


Most of the shelters were found to have deficiencies in several of the 15 categories. Some of these are much more critical than others. For example, very few shelters had backup power, which is not necessarily an immediate threat to life safety, except in cases of special needs evacuees that may need powered medical equipment.

A deficiency in construction type/load path or building condition would present a much more serious threat. Some of the most serious problems found were related to fenestration (window and door protection) and exterior wall construction. Technologies for providing safe, impact resistant windows are just coming on line, in the wake of Hurricane Andrew-led changes in South Florida building codes. The Texas Department of Insurance has also fostered building code changes in coastal counties, requiring impact resistant glass or shutters. These new technologies will hopefully provide opportunities for retrofits and new construction for buildings with dual use as shelters.

During Hurricane Georges, parish emergency managers had the results of the shelter studies to use in determining which shelters to open. A detailed survey of shelters opened and not opened revealed that as a group, the shelters that were opened had higher ratings than those not opened. This hopefully indicated that the parish emergency managers made use of the shelter survey data provided to them.


The evaluation of shelters in the parishes was an attempt to identify the best sites available sites. It appears to have had a positive impact in the one trial use it has had. The state and several parishes are continuing to work with LSU on several additional projects.

These projects are in the areas of special needs shelters, and additional shelters for at risk parishes.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Marc. Next we turn to the state of Mississippi and Andy Crawford. Welcome, Andy.

Andy Crawford: Thanks Amy, please bear with me folks, this is my first time.

In Mississippi we decided to get as much out of the grant as possible, improving our overall shelter status as much as much as we could with the dollars available. The amount of money we received was too small to hire an engineering firm to evaluate all of our shelters in our 13 county "at-risk" area, so we decided to develop a Shelter Evaluation Guide for use by locals to basically determine if their shelters are safe.

As has been the experience in our state, ALL shelters become hurricane evacuation shelters during these events, we decided to attempt to evaluate all our shelters. However, we thought that since shelters were used for purposes other than Hurricane evacuation, we decided to expand and evaluate for the purposes for which the shelter may be used, having different standards for different uses.

The thought was that a shelter on the coast may be unsafe as a Hurricane Evacuation Shelter, but may be totally fine for a HazMat incident during February. Shelter space is too difficult to find to not use what is available if safe for the event.

So we gave the Geology Department at the University of Mississippi a contract to:

1) Develop a shelter evaluation guide based on the ARC, FEMA and Florida information;

2) Train locals on how to use the Guide and background info flood plains, building construction, etc.; and then

3) Based on the info provided back by the locals, develop a statewide GIS data base of shelters.

Each shelter is evaluated as: 1) Hurricane Evacuation Shelter 2) HAZMAT shelter 3) Flood and 4) Other. The Guide is 9 pages, and based on the numeric value it receives is rated as either PREFERRED, ACCEPTABLE, MARGINAL or UN-USABLE.

Aspects of the shelter evaluated include:

1) Habitation needs

2) Fire and Life Safety needs,

3) Building condition

4) Inundation hazards and

5) Wind hazard.

During July and August approximately 80 local emergency managers, ARC and Department of Human Services personnel were trained throughout the state and we hope to be receiving feedback on the evaluations shortly. During the training we stressed CORRECTING identified problems with the shelters! "It ain't perfect," but we think, over time, this will lead to an overall improvement in our shelter posture. That's what has happened in Mississippi.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Andy. We will now take questions from the audience. If you have a question or comment, please indicate by inputting a question mark (?) to the chat screen. Then compose your question but hold it until you are recognized; then hit Enter or Send. Please indicate to whom your question is addressed, Marc or Andy. First question please?

Audience Questions


Amy Sebring: While folks are thinking, Andy, when do you expect to have your evaluation completed? Is there a deadline for example?

Andy Crawford: No deadline; each county has to set their own pace, hopefully in a year it will be complete.


Warren Vaughn: Andy, is your guide available to out of state folks? Our local Red Cross just got axed and we have to take over the shelter program.

Andy Crawford: Sure, we have no copyright.


Amy Sebring: Andy, would you like to put up your email address for follow-up?

Andy Crawford: Sure, <[email protected]>.


Marc Levitan: Andy, did you give a separate rating for each use; i.e., hurricane and hazmat?

Andy Crawford: Yes, we have totally different numbers for each category of shelter.


Isabel McCurdy: Andy, how does one gain a copy of the guide?

Amy Sebring: Please try email request, Isabel.

Andy Crawford: If you send me your E-mail, I'll try to email a copy to you. But it will be a couple of weeks.

David Kauer: Andy, I would like to get a copy of your guide also even though I'm in the Upper Peninsula of MI, I think we can use some of your ideas. <[email protected]>

Andy Crawford: Never can tell when a CAT-4 will roll off the lake.


Avagene Moore: Since shelters across the country, for whatever purpose, are generally schools, etc., do you see a need to do this type of evaluation across the board, across the country?

Marc Levitan: A guide would likely be helpful for all states. But what is truly needed is a Design Guide for new construction, which would allow dual use for a structure as a shelter for whatever hazards are a threat to that particular state.


Amy Sebring: Marc, did you find a significant number of unacceptable shelters?

Marc Levitan: Most of the buildings we surveyed would have had at least one or more categories on the list of 15, which were rated marginal. The Original guide developed in Florida had the lowest ranking of unacceptable. But this ranking was changed to Marginal for the state of Louisiana due to the fact that codes and construction here are such that nearly every building in the state would have been rated as unacceptable.


David Kauer: Marc, we have a number of Ammunition Bunkers from the old Kincheloe AFB; would these work as shelters with modifications for plumbing and feeding?

Marc Levitan: David, is that the old SAC Base, and are those bunkers ones that were designed for protection against bombardment?

David Kauer: Marc, yes, I believe they are.

Marc Levitan: If they are all right from a mass care perspective, I would imagine that they would be good for most anything then, except perhaps flooding.


Amy Sebring: Marc, you mentioned that special needs shelters might require considerations such as backup power. One would expect local EMs to be encouraged to use the higher rated facilities for this. Did you find such in Georges, and Andy, can you comment if this is a component of your system?

Marc Levitan: I think that Georges alerted state and local officials that they have to spend more time addressing the special needs cases and they are working on that right now.

Andy Crawford: We did not address SNS in our evaluation. That's a whole different bag of issues.

Marc Levitan: I am working with two parishes and have been approached by the state for a new project concerning, specifically, selecting buildings for special needs evacuees.


Amy Sebring: Marc, you mentioned the fenestration. Are the problems noted ones that could be corrected without much difficulty? Have you found any attempts to do this?

Marc Levitan: Replacing windows and doors with impact resistant glazing, or providing shutters is possible, and cost varies tremendously. The best situations are if there are just a few which need to be protected. Or, sometimes we just recommend protecting portions of the structure. For example, many school buildings have a straight interior corridor with classrooms on each side. If these classrooms have many windows, we often recommend simply protecting the hallway for use as shelter space, and don't plan on using the classrooms. Of course, the hallway must be suitable. Although the hallways are generally safer spaces, it does depend on the construction type and design details, and may not always be best.


Amy Sebring: Marc, then Andy. Did/will your study survey capacity vs. expected need? And Marc, did you find as in Florida that capacity was previously overestimated?

Marc Levitan: We didn't exactly address that issue. However, we told the parishes that some of the buildings they were using were inappropriate, and that they should only be using parts of others. Some parishes proceeded to look for other buildings then. But the general consensus is that New Orleans metro area is very short of true 'shelter' space, at best there is some refuge of last resort space.


Amy Sebring: Andy, shelter capacity?

Andy Crawford: Nope, did not address, too much on the plate for that too; we are addressing separately.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much both Marc and Andy for being with us today, and thank you, audience. We will have a text transcript posted later today, and a reformatted version early next week. You can access these via the Transcripts link under Quick Picks on our home page.


Amy Sebring: Any final comment you would like to make Marc or Andy? Andy, you did fine for a first timer!

Andy Crawford: Thanks, it was fun.

Marc Levitan: If anyone needs more information, myself and other faculty of the LSU Hurricane Center would be glad to provide whatever assistance we can.

Final Question:

Amy Sebring: Thanks Marc. Will you put up your address again, please?

Marc Levitan: email <[email protected]>, and LSU Hurricane Center web site <http://www.hurricane.lsu.edu>.

Andy Crawford: <[email protected]>.

Amy Sebring: Our time is about up, but before we adjourn, Ava will give us a heads up on our upcoming events.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. Very interesting and timely topic today, Marc and Andy. We appreciate your time and effort today.

Next Tuesday's Round Table (Sept 21) is hosted by the Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI) and will feature Wayne Powell of the National Fire Academy. Wayne currently serves as the Program Chair for Fire Prevention Management. Wayne will discuss the 25th Anniversary of "America Burning."

On Weds Sept 22, the Tech Arena features "Advanced Information Technology for Crisis Response" by William T. Turnbull, Deputy Director, Office of HPCC, NOAA. Mark these sessions on your calendar (12 Noon ET) and join us in the EIIP Virtual Forum next week. That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ava. We will adjourn the session now, but you are invited to stay for a few more minutes of open discussion and to thank our guests.