ARC 3068-lA Feb. 1988


Shelter Operation

This material is planned to serve as a guide and checklist for the individual responsible for opening a school, public building, church, or other facility to be used for the reception and care of disaster victims.

The shelter manager should be someone familiar with the building to be used: its size, facilities, and day-to-day level of supplies. If the shelter is a school, the principal or a designated member of his staff may serve under agreements in effect between the school board and the Red Cross. Authorization for use of the school as a shelter should be made through normal school district channels.

The regular staff working in the building—faculty as well as office, cafeteria, and maintenance staff—should be the primary resource for personnel to operate the shelter, as they have the most complete knowledge of the facility and can best safeguard against damage and misuse.

The shelter manager may expect full support from the chapter to provide needed equipment, supplies, and additional staff. The Red Cross will pay for food and other supplies on hand that are used in the shelter as well as additional supplies required.

Mass Care shelters are generally intended to operate for a limited time—one to four days. In most instances, shelter residents are able to return to their homes within a short time or to locate other housing. The remaining families can be assisted by Family Service workers in solving this problem.

While in operation, the shelter must meet a multitude of human needs both physical and psychological under adverse conditions. The young, old, ill, employed, and unemployed all have special needs to be met through recreation, medical services, transportation, maintenance, and social work services available through the shelter.

Duties of the Shelter Manager  Predisaster Planning

    Chapters are responsible for identifying and planning for shelters, and predesignated shelter managers should participate in this activity.

    Such preparedness comprises—

    1. Developing a plan for the operation of the buildings, to include the following:

      • A survey of the building
      • A floor plan of the building and grounds, and use of space
    2. Estimating the resources and supplies necessary to operate the shelter based on its capacity:
      • Type and quantity of supplies such as soap, towels, and cleaning equipment
      • Food and cooking equipment
    • Provision for bedding and medical and first aid supplies3. Estimating additional staff needed for actual operations including support staff from other disaster committees.  4. Planning a method of registering each person housed in the shelter. (Last name first, predisaster home address.)
    Note: The shelter manager may appoint one or more assistants for any of the above duties. However, they are all ultimately the responsibility of the shelter manager.
At a Time of Disaster

    After being officially notified to open a building for the shelter, the shelter manager should—
      1. Proceed immediately to the building.
      2. Establish and maintain contact with Red Cross disaster headquarters.
    3. Alert basic staff and activate the building.
    4. Arrange the building for operation, and inventory supplies and equipment. Prepare rooms for receiving people and for other purposes.

    5. Order supplies and equipment from Red Cross disaster headquarters and report any need for support such as medical services.
    6. Recruit additional personnel. (Disaster victims in the shelter may be recruited.)
    7. Begin feeding beverages and snacks as soon as the shelter opens, and begin regular meal service as soon as possible.
    8. Keep in constant touch with the shelter chairman at disaster headquarters, giving progress reports and a daily count of persons housed and fed.
    9. Arrange for the care of pets, if necessary.

Shelter Reception and Registration

    The shelter manager is responsible for ensuring that a simple record is kept of every person who is housed in his shelter. He may delegate this responsibility to one or more assistants as needed.

    At the reception desk, the family or individual should be assigned to an appropriate lodging area. They should proceed to the registration desk before going on to their lodging area.

    Shelter registration cards (Form 5972) should be used if available.

    If not, plain 3- x 5-inch cards may be used for this registration. The following information is needed:

      1. Last, first, and middle names for husband and wife (include wife’s maiden name)
      2. Names and ages of all family members
      3. Any health problems
      4. Predisaster address
      5. Date arrived in the shelter; date departed
      6. Postdisaster address

    Registration cards should be made in duplicate. One copy is for the shelter manager’s files, and one copy is sent to disaster headquarters for the Welfare Inquiry section. If it is not practicable to make cards in duplicate, an alphabetical list of shelter occupants can be submitted.

    When victims move from the shelter, it should be so indicated on the registration cards, and disaster headquarters should be notified.

    It is important that people be registered as soon as they arrive in the shelter, or as soon as practicable. (This is not to be confused with registration of families for individual assistance, i.e., Family Service.)


    In general, feeding for a shelter operation falls into one of two categories: (1) feeding within the shelter, where cafeteria facilities already exist, and (2) the arrangement to feed persons in a nearby commercial establishment. (In some instances, it may be feasible to create temporary kitchen and feeding equipment within the shelter.)

    The shelter manager is administratively responsible for feeding people housed under his management. The shelter manager may have the use of staff who normally operate the cafeteria, or may have to rely on food delivery by other units of the Mass Care function.

    The shelter manager is responsible for maintaining a daily count of people fed within his shelter and reporting this information to Red Cross headquarters.

    The person in charge of feeding will arrange for someone to

    receive, store, issue, and keep records of supplies.

    Shelter occupants can assist as cooks' helpers and servers, and can serve on the cleanup crew.

    Hot meals should be provided twice a day. Additionally, a midday lunch should be provided for children, the aged, expectant and nursing mothers, workmen, and disaster victims doing heavy work.

    Special diet problems will be handled as recommended by medical and nursing staff on duty at the shelter.

    Menus will be planned in terms of foods available, with perishable foods being used first. Sufficient food should be prepared to provide second servings. USDA foods may be available, subject to approval by appropriate government agencies (e.g., school administration) and Red Cross authorities.

Medical and Nursing

    The Red Cross is responsible for providing adequate medical and nursing services in all Red Cross—operated shelters to care for the sick and injured, protect the health of residents, and supervise the sanitation of the shelter.

    The Red Cross chapter is responsible for providing competent Disaster Health Services staff in each shelter. If such staff are unavailable, the shelter manager should assign someone with knowledge of first aid to provide limited care. In the absence of qualified medical staff, all medical problems should be referred to a local emergency room or physician. In such an event, the shelter manager must retain records of individuals—a description of their ailment or injury and the medical facility used.

Child Care

    If a shelter remains open for more than a day or two, a child-care facility should be considered in order to ease the burden on parents.

    The shelter manager will designate someone to be responsible for child care.


    If large numbers of persons are housed in the shelter, and if the shelter operation is prolonged, it is advisable to provide recreation facilities.

    It is the shelter manager’s responsibility to decide when and if recreation is needed. He may appoint one or more persons to develop appropriate recreational activities.

    The shelter manager may call upon resources at disaster headquarters for assistance in providing recreational supplies such as films, newspapers, equipment, games, and TV sets.

Shelter Maintenance

    The shelter manager will designate someone to be responsible for building maintenance and upkeep. The staff normally responsible for the facility may be available for this purpose. Shelter residents should, however, be asked to assist. Necessary activities include the following: 1. Acquire additional supplies and equipment such as furniture, safety and cleaning equipment, and tools.
    2. Arrange for daily janitorial service.
    3. Arrange for the installation of additional temporary facilities such as showers and toilets.
    4. Move furniture as necessary.
    5. Prepare and supervise the use of the grounds and yard for parking and recreation, if necessary.
    6. Maintain a system of record keeping to facilitate returning the building to its original condition upon closing, and document any damages and related expenses.
Floor Plan and Space Allocation

    In the allocation of space, consideration should be given to the following needs:
      • Manager’s office
      • Emergency medical care
      • Feeding area
      • Reception and registration
      • Storage of food and supplies
      • Possible storage of occupants’ belongings
      • Child care
      • Rest room for staff (in larger shelters)
      • Family Service interviewing area
      • Recreation areas

    Some guidelines to use in planning:

      • 1 toilet per 40 persons (6 for 200, 14 for 500)
      • 40 to 60 square feet of sleeping space per person
      • 1 quart of drinking water (minimum) per person per day
      • 5 gallons of water per person per day (all uses)
      • 2,500 calories per person per day (approximately 3½ pounds of unprepared food)

    Staff Needed

     • Shelter manager
    • Assistant manager
    • Nurse
    • Registration
    • Food preparation
    • Building maintenance and sanitation