Florida Schools Add More Than 5,000 Hurricane Shelter Spaces

The spaces were part of a retrofit project funded by the Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program and Hurricane Shelter Deficit Reduction Program — programs designed to increase a structure's ability to withstand hurricanes.

by Christen Kelley, The St. Augustine Record, Fla. / February 25, 2020

(TNS) — The St. Johns County School District has added more than 5,000 shelter spaces to local schools with $1.2 million in state funding.

The additional shelter spaces were added to Pacetti Bay Middle and Switzerland Point Middle schools as part of a two-year shelter retrofit project funded by the Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program and the Hurricane Shelter Deficit Reduction Program.

The programs are part of the Florida Department of Emergency Management and provide millions of dollars in grant funding for retrofits, inspections, and construction or modification of building components designed to increase a structure's ability to withstand hurricane-force winds and flooding.

"What this agreement does is it gives us an avenue to create additional shelter seats, and it lets our schools become more robust and resilient," said Paul Rose, executive director of facilities and operations at the school district. "It provides additional protections for our facilities whether we use them for a shelter or not."

In all, 5,141 additional hurricane shelter spaces and 133 additional special needs hurricane shelter spaces were added to the schools, which required upgrades to the schools' windows and doors in order to make them more resistant to hurricane-force winds and flying objects.

"We identified two projects and we found that these were the two best candidate school projects to add shelter retrofits," Rose said, explaining that primary shelter facilities have to meet certain requirements, such as being inland from the Intracoastal Waterway.

"One of the important benefits is that this is a 100% reimbursement with the state," Rose said. "We took advantage of this program and its mutual benefits, so not only do we have more shelter space, but our schools are more protected."

Linda Stoughton, director of the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center, said that before the project was completed the county was facing a deficit in shelter spaces.

"We've had evacuations for Matthew, Irma and Dorian, and we've used St. Johns County schools as our shelter spaces each time," Stoughton said. "Our community is growing at a rapid pace, and being able to add shelter space is definitely a plus."

The increase in special needs shelters was especially needed. These shelters require more square footage per person to accommodate larger cots, medical equipment or wheelchairs.

Stoughton said that the finished project brings the total number of hurricane shelter spaces in St. Johns County to 14,000. Although the county needed more spaces, Stoughton said they aren't required to have a shelter capacity for every resident in St. Johns County.

"Even in Matthew, Irma and Dorian, we did not fill up our shelters, and we have never opened every shelter at once," she said. "But now there is capacity for that if we need it."

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