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ArkLaTex In-Depth: Hurricane shelters - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

ArkLaTex In-Depth: Hurricane shelters

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CADDO - BOSSIER PARISH -

When hurricanes approach the gulf coast, one of the main concerns in the ArkLaTex is a possible influx of evacuees from southern Louisiana. So, how prepared is "our" area and how much does it cost to keep these shelters ready?

Hurricane Katrina swept through the gulf coast with relentless destruction in August 2005 taking with it 200 thousand homes and displacing more than a million people. Thousands of people from south Louisiana suddenly found themselves temporarily living in northwest Louisiana and many of them were in shelters.

"We learned how to play the game in the middle of overtime. I mean it was all hands on deck. We did whatever we could do" says Sandy Davis Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for Caddo and Bossier Parishes.

The lessons learned during Katrina meant that our corner of the state was much better prepared for hurricanes Gustav and Ike three years later. Davis says that our area has three different types of shelters specifically designed for the unique needs of those who'll be calling them home for any length of time.

Providing a home away from home comes with a hefty price tag for the state's Department of Children and Family Services. The facilities at 8810 Jewella Avenue and West Park in west Shreveport are critical transportation needs shelters and combined can hold 3900 people. These are generally reserved for residents who must depend on public transportation to be evacuated from affected areas, not those who are able to drive themselves to a shelter. Davis says that they lease the shelter spaces 12 months out of the year in order to make them available for our hurricane season.

The rent for the two facilities is paid for out of the state general funds. Leasing the two critical transportation needs shelters costs about $1 million a year without utilities turned on and without a single evacuee inside. The unoccupied rent for 8810 Jewella is a little over $1300 a day and $2200 if the shelter is activated. That's a base rent of just over $40,500 a month and just under $500,000 a year.

The West Park facility comes in slightly higher at $41,850 per month or slightly over $502,000 a year. Since they started renting the Jewella shelter in June 2007, the state has shelled out a minimum of just over $3 million dollars though the shelter was up for sale in 2008 for just $2.5 million.

Davis says that "it's much more reasonable than to pay an occupied rate for an unoccupied building which was what had been happening at 8810 Jewella."

Add to that the cost of paying police officers, sheriff's deputies, fire department personnel and EMT's and you may ask yourself, is this cost effective? Davis says an outsider would probably say no. But, those who are forced to call these shelters home, may have a different answer.

"The Storm Prediction Center is saying that this year is going to be an above average year but what people don't understand is, it only takes one. We don't have to have 15" says Davis.

Shreveport is also home to two general population shelters that are run by the local chapter of the American Red Cross. LSU-Shreveport and Southern University together can hold 800 displaced residents.

"Those are fantastic shelters for us because they have a great gymnasium, plenty of showers and plenty of bathrooms" says Michelle Davison with the American Red Cross.

The third type of shelter is for medical special needs and is housed at the Bossier Civic Center and run by DCFS. This facility is reserved for those who need around-the-clock medical care. Perhaps the most important aspect of weathering the storm is that Davis says residents have realized they need to take a proactive approach to disaster planning.

"That's the key to emergency management is that people are able to take care of themselves and that allows us to take care of those folks that just absolutely cannot do that" says Davis.

Louisiana has also contracted with other host states. That means those states are guaranteed to house a certain number of pre-determined people. Between hurricanes Gustav and Ike, 1.3 million people were evacuated to other states from south Louisiana. Throughout Caddo and Bossier, countless faith-based shelters also tend to pop-up as evacuees are headed this way.

Riverview Hall in downtown Shreveport can be activated as a shelter and in Bossier, the Century Link Center is used as a point-to-point shelter for evacuees from Assumption Parish.

Red Cross spokesperson, Michelle Davison, says that much of their work focuses on distracting kids from the anxiety of shelter life.

"The parents are stressing at that point, When they reach us, they're stressing the fact that there's a hurricane headed toward their house and they don't want to worry the kids. They don't want to worry, they don't want to upset the kids but they've got a lot on their shoulders" says Davison.

Within 72 hours, Davison says the two general population shelters can be up and running.

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