Will Broward County Be Able to Staff Shelters During Dorian?

If Hurricane Dorian, now projected to be a Category 3 storm when it reaches the U.S. coast over Labor Day weekend, should veer South Florida’s way, the county is unsure it will have enough workers to staff the shelters.

by Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel / August 28, 2019
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, at 17:20 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Dorian, a Category 1 hurricane, crossing over the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Forecasters say it could grow to Category 3 status as it nears the U.S. mainland as early as the weekend. AP

(TNS) — Broward County has 33 shelters available to open for residents seeking refuge if a hurricane comes its way, but right now it only has enough staff to open about half of them, officials said.

If Hurricane Dorian, now projected to be a Category 3 storm when it reaches the U.S. coast over Labor Day weekend, should veer South Florida’s way, Broward’s uncertain shelter situation will be put to the test.

The county has struggled the past few years to find enough workers to staff all its shelters if needed.

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry is confident the county has sufficient numbers to handle Dorian given its current expected strength.

But the county would be hard-pressed to field a sufficient staff if Dorian’s strength were to increase significantly, or if a stronger storm were to threaten the county this year.

“If we have a huge one that you have to open up everything we’ve got, then we would have a problem,” Henry said.

Officials recommend people look first to friends and family who live outside evacuation areas for a place to stay before going to a shelter to ride out a storm.

Broward Emergency Management Director Tracy Jackson said the county’s goal is to have about 1,800 shelter workers trained and available. The number right now is closer to 700, mostly county and school district employees, he said.

That should be enough to open about 16 shelters, Jackson said.

“I see very easily half of them being able to open, and that would include the biggest shelters,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Henry think the county would get additional city and school employees stepping up to volunteer if the county sounded the alarm that more hands were needed.

“I’m comfortable if we see a really big one coming, they would recognize that we have no choice but to gear up,” Henry said.

It’s too early yet for the county to determine which, if any, shelters it will open for Dorian.

Jackson said the shelters were stretched thin in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma brushed the area.

Prior to the 2017 hurricane season, counties had relied on the American Red Cross to provide volunteers in their shelters, but the Red Cross was finding itself stretched too thin and began limiting how much it could handle. In Broward County, the Red Cross still helps in the county’s special needs shelters and some additional shelters, but the county has had to pick up the bulk of the staffing, Jackson said.

During Irma, the county opened 27 shelters using only 431 workers and served close to 14,000 evacuees and hundreds of pets, officials said.

County officials have been meeting with city and school leaders hoping to get a commitment from them to provide more employees for the shelters.

Palm Beach County uses county and school employees to staff its shelters, but it has a much larger available county workforce than Broward County because it serves a much larger unincorporated area.

Broward officials said many of its employees are not available for shelter work because they have emergency responsibilities as the hurricane approaches or need to be ready to go as soon as it passes.

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