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State, local officials prepared to shelter evacuees in case of hurricane

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(Photo soure: Erin Buchanan/KTBS 3 News) (Photo soure: Erin Buchanan/KTBS 3 News)
(Photo source: Erin Buchanan/KTBS 3 News) (Photo source: Erin Buchanan/KTBS 3 News)
(Photo source: KTBS 3 News) (Photo source: KTBS 3 News)
CADDO PARISH, La. (KTBS) -

With maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, Hurricane Katrina ripped through Louisiana's coastline on August 29th, 2005, taking with it thousands of homes, businesses, and lives.

The storm left state and local officials scrambling to adequately shelter evacuees.

"We had to house thousands. We had to deal with major commodities, we had to deal with pharmaceuticals, we had to deal with health care problems. We had to deal with school."

Robert Jump is the Deputy Director of the Caddo Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, once a combined office with Bossier.

But despite the recent split, Jump says it doesn't diminish efforts to improve how we shelter storm evacuees and learn from our mistakes.

"It doesn't affect our state's response. It doesn't affect our preparedness because we're all still the same partners and we've held the same preparatory meetings leading into this hurricane season."

Shreveport has two critical transportation needs shelters - one at 8810 Jewella Avenue and the other at Westpark on Atkinson Drive.

Combined, these state-run shelters can hold 3,900 people, already stocked with meals ready-to-eat, cots, bottled water, and permanent showers and bathrooms.

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Jump says they've come a long way since Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, back-to-back storms in 2008 That exposed severe weakenesses in local sheltering.

"When you hold children for months on end, you have to deal with those social aspects that we take for granted. We take a population that's a small city coming in to our area," Jump explains, adding that DCFS workers help keep children busy with activities while in the shelter.

The state's Department of Children and Family Services also runs a medical special needs shelter at the Bossier Civic Center for those needing critical round-the-clock medical care.

Security for the shelters is provided by Louisiana State Police and supplemented with local authorities as needed.

Jump says the state's emergency management plans have been assessed - and reassesed - many times and are constantly improving.

"If people are already in buses traveling here, we've already put several things into place, as well as the information notification of all those organizations responsible for helping our citizens out."

Louisiana's mega-shelter in Alexandria is also equipped and ready to go, with a capacity of about 2,500 people.

But Sandy Davis, with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), says the ultimate goal is to be able to become "shelter independent", meaning we're not forced to send evacuees to host states.

"We lost a congressional seat after the census in 2010 because of the population we lost after Katrina that didn't come back home. So it works in our favor to be able to keep people in their home state," Davis says.

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Davis estimates that we're at least 8,500 spaces short right now, but he says we're actually closer than we've ever been to meeting that goal.

"The other advantage is, of course, the cost. It doesn't cost us nearly as much to transport folks from one location in Louisiana to another."

And with all eyes trained to the gulf this hurricane season, Jump says we're prepared to move at a moment's notice.

"Our goal is to provide a quality product to the citizens of the State of Louisiana."

Shreveport is also home to two general population shelters that are run by the Northwest Louisiana chapter of the American Red Cross.

LSU-Shreveport and Southern University Shreveport together can hold 800 displaced residents.

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

The Red Cross says their two shelters can be up and running in about 72 hours.

 

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