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Facilities Planning

Schools as Emergency Shelters


Schools, Shelters, and The Red Cross

Disasters and emergencies are events that we hope will never happen, but which we have an obligation to diligently plan for. New York State's diverse topography and geography lends itself to a wide variety of severe weather scenarios that have the potential to significantly impact all of our communities. Throughout the years, the citizens of New York State have experienced everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to ice storms and floods. Technological emergencies may also occur, such as hazardous materials incidents, radiological incidents, or explosions. When a disaster occurs, we often look to the American Red Cross for assistance in providing temporary shelter or even in rebuilding our lives. This is where the school community should play an important role.

New York State Schools have traditionally taken an active role in working with the Red Cross. Most citizens think of their local public schools as a focal point and safe haven in their community. As such, the State Education Department has long encouraged schools to work with their local Red Cross chapter in completing a Statement of Agreement Concerning The Use Of Facilities As Mass Care Shelters By The American Red Cross. The agreement states that after meeting its responsibilities to pupils, schools will permit their facilities to be used by the Red Cross as shelters. In addition, the Red Cross will reimburse the school for any food or supplies that may have been used during the school's use as a shelter. Finally, the Red Cross will defend, hold harmless, and indemnify the school district against any legal liability arising from the negligence of the Red Cross during its use of the property.

While the completion of a Red Cross sheltering agreement is exceedingly valuable and important to the entire community, the shelter cannot open unless a Red Cross-trained volunteer is on the premises to serve as the shelter manager. Unfortunately, the Red Cross has informed the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) that there is a significant shortage of shelter managers in New York State at this time. Some key shelter manager responsibilities include:

  • determining the shelter layout
  • assigning shelter staff
  • assessing feeding options
  • ensuring that shelter residents are kept current on the disaster and recovery process
  • conducting shelter meetings
  • inspecting the shelter for safety and sanitation
  • coordinating plans to close the shelter.

It would be beneficial for school district employees to volunteer to complete the Red Cross shelter manager training and serve as the shelter managers for Red Cross shelters in the school district. This would achieve two main objectives: school district employees are most familiar with their own school buildings and would be the most effective and efficient shelter managers. The second objective is that school districts have a commitment to serve the entire community. School district employees serving as Red Cross volunteer shelter managers will enable the district to be prepared to aid the community in time of need.

Information on Red Cross shelter agreements and manager training may be obtained by contacting Joe Kuzma, Red Cross Liaison to SEMO at 518-485-9529 or your local Red Cross chapter. Contact Carl Thurnau for further assistance on school emergency planning issues at or 518-474-3906.