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If Disaster Strikes, Hundreds of Facilities Earmarked for Shelters

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Louisiana Superdome served as temporary , and turbulent , emergency shelters for those who weren’t able to evacuate the city.

Is it likely that similar venues in San Diego could be used in this fashion following a disaster?

“Mega-shelters are not ideal for sheltering, and are considered a resource of last resort,” said Holly Porter, public information specialist for the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services. “The first option is to use smaller facilities, such as high schools or middle schools.”

Approximately 670 facilities have been identified throughout the county as potential shelters, and agreements have been signed, she said.

“The American Red Cross has the primary responsibility for sheltering in our region,” said Porter. “For large facilities, no agreements are in place , as, again, they are not ideal for sheltering, due to limited showering facilities and the logistics of security.”

However, she added, should it be necessary to use one, the first consideration , depending on the nature of the disaster and what is available , would be the Cox Arena, Peterson Gym at San Diego State University; Jenny Craig Pavilion at the University of San Diego; then possibly the San Diego Convention Center, followed by the Sports Arena.

“The facilities would be open when it is deemed necessary,” said Porter. “Decisions are made depending upon how many people need sheltering and what area is affected. Qualcomm (Stadium) and Petco Park would most likely not be considered, due to lack of cover and the level of security and monitoring required.”

Porter noted that, “History has shown that only about 10 percent to 20 percent of people affected by a disaster will require public sheltering. The vast majority of people will check into a hotel or stay with friends or family.”

In the event of a disaster, said Porter, her office might work with the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association to identify conference room space that could be used to coordinate the recovery effort.

“Depending on the size and scope of the disaster, if necessary, the room space could also be utilized by jurisdictions, as alternate emergency operation centers, where disaster-related activities are coordinated,” said Porter.


Dial 2-1-1

Help also is available to travelers, as well as San Diego residents, courtesy of 2-1-1 San Diego and the San Diego Superior Court.

Bright blue phones now are available at designated court facilities in downtown, including at the Hall of Justice, 330 W. Broadway; Family Court, 1501-55 Sixth Ave.; North County, 325 South Melrose Drive in Vista; and coming soon in the South County at 500 Third Ave. in Chula Vista, according to Karen Dalton, spokeswoman for the San Diego Superior Court.

The court is collaborating with 2-1-1 San Diego, which, she said, is an established phone-referral service that links the public with legal, community, health and disaster services in their communities, and also can help people find volunteer services throughout the county. The 2-1-1 helpline in San Diego also has translation services available in 140 languages.

Superior Court has installed four direct-dialing 2-1-1 phones to help the public connect with a variety of community services, such as emergency food, job referrals and counseling , services the court does not provide, said Mike Roddy, the court’s executive officer.

The 2-1-1 program, which is free throughout the county, started 10 years ago in Atlanta. Since then it has expanded rapidly across the country, said Dalton, with San Diego hosting one of the first 2-1-1 programs in California, beginning in June 2005.

The program, which costs the court $200 per month, has been successfully implemented in courts in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, said Dalton.

“2-1-1 is becoming more common across the country,” said Sara Matta, executive director of 2-1-1 San Diego. “Those who are used to using this in their home community get used to using it where they are visiting as well. In this community, we are very much integrated with the disaster-response official system.”

Matta added that, “We are talking about the need to reach out to the hotel and restaurant industries, to make sure that they are aware of daily emergencies that can happen to people, not only the major disasters.”

For instance, she said, a visitor might get bad news about a relative’s health crisis back home.

“They can call 2-1-1 here, and we can connect to 2-1-1 in, for instance, Georgia,” said Matta. “We have information and referrals to all kinds of health and social services in the community.”

The system also helps visitors navigate through what can be a bewildering labyrinth of services.

“We realize it’s a complex system out there and we are here on your side to help you figure it out, and get the help you need,” said Matta.

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