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Life in public disaster shelters: why you'd really rather make your own preparations....

"I have my own shelter, a four week supply of food and enough ammunition to Protect it." Statement by a metropolitan Federal Emergency Management Director.

Hopefully most of us will never need to utilize a public disaster shelter. Unto fortunately, you may work in the city and may not be able to escape to your home area. Also, you may get caught in a disaster through no fault of your own. For example, while I was doing disaster work during Hurricane Andrew, I saw many who had to live in tent cities. There was a lot of friction, non-smokers vigilante groups and the typical theft of pillows and miscellaneous items. There were cases of sneaking in liquor, enforcing lights out, loud talking and even the case of the daybreak shower user who used the shower as a bathroom.

I recently asked a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director to describe the nuclear accidents and attack defense plan for his city. He said that for an attack scenario, we would see a buildup in political tension and the population would have three days to evacuate to the surrounding counties using major arteries. For those who do not evacuate, public civil defense or fallout shelters would be available.

He also said 20,000 critical position personnel (police, medical, governmental) had been identified. They and their families would be moved to expedient shelter facilities in the county that would be constructed and supplied with food and medical supplies.

I can picture the traffic jam that most cities have under normal conditions without considering a total evacuation to include the impact on the rural communities nearby. I see disabled cars and wonder how many will run out of gas in one of our neighborhoods. Plus what are those who evacuate supposed to do when they get out of the city?

If you do not get an advance notice of an attack and had to use a public civil defense shelter, what would you experience? The findings from various FEMA sources were very disturbing.

There is a potential for behavioral and health problems as a result of confined and crowded living conditions in shelters. This is especially true during a severe or prolonged emergency. In theory, there will be shelter managers to control the problems we are about to discuss. In reality, I feel many will be busy taking care of things at home. In addition, what happens if your shelter manager is sick, on vacation or in a traffic jam? Also, very few FEMA personnel have taken any of the shelter management training programs or have they been assigned to a shelter.

Most shelters have long since given their medical supplies to hospitals and their food has been removed. Most shelters are utilizing existing office space that has been designated for use for victims in a disaster.

When I asked him about his personal plans, since he would be leading the disaster effort, I was disturbed by his response. He stated, "I have my own shelter, a four week supply of food and enough ammunition to protect it." After you read the following, you will see why you also should make plans not to depend on others for help. They may be too busy helping themselves.

The basic conditions FEMA expects to occur in a fallout shelter are as follows:

* Shelter stay may be required for several weeks to protect the population from radioactive fallout.

* Outside support may either be overwhelmed with other problems or terminated and thus unavailable.

* Shelter populations may be quite large; severe crowding may exist with each occupant permitted as little as 10 square feet of livable space.

* Vital provisions such as food, water, and medicine may be scarce and ventilation may be poor.

* Shelter populations evacuated from high density disaster areas may be a diverse and heterogeneous mixture of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

* Some occupants may have injuries resulting from direct weapons effects.

* Family members may be separated from each other.

* Extreme physical, behavioral, and health problems may quickly develop among the sheltered populations because of the above conditions.

The management of human problems in a shelter environment is complicated by the fact that humans interact with one another producing secondary effects. For example, food or water deprivation can lead to antisocial behavior or maladaptive responses. At the same time, food and water deprivation can lower body resistance to infectious diseases. Psychosomatic illness and heightened fear can create sleep loss and fatigue which, in turn, can result in violation of shelter rules or violence.

Management problems to he expected are criminal behavior, sexual behavior, use of alcohol and drugs, fighting, gambling, hoarding and inappropriate use of supplies, smoking, unwillingness to obey rules, dangerous personal belongings and rebellion.

Respiratory infections are the most common and troublesome of human infectious diseases. Usually mild, they may become serious under shelter conditions and will spread rapidly throughout the shelter population. The most likely respiratory infections will include the common cold, meningitis, streptococcal infections, influenza and staphylococcal infections. In some cases, pneumonia outbreaks will occur.

As you read what is expected to be experienced in a public civil defense shelter, you may have concluded a public shelter is not the place to be. Consider learning more about storm and nuclear shelter protection, expedient shelters and home shelter construction before the need may arise.

Shelter construction booklets are available from the federal government and they explain fallout protection concepts. These publications are quite dated but the information is still valid. Explanatory written instructions are supplemented with illustrations and drawings. The procedures described are usually based on the work being done by the homeowner rather than a professional builder and simple techniques are normally suggested. For a free bibliography of federal civil defense home shelter plans, send a SASE to Shelter Plans, 977-8 Mill Creek Run, Suwanee, GA 30174.
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Author:Larson, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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