Venues as Shelters:  Is Your Venue Prepared to Be Used as a Shelter Site?

Unfortunately, over the past few months we’ve seen multiple natural disasters and major incidents—California’s forest fires, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Mexico’s earthquakes, the Route 91 festival shooting in Las Vegas—where sheltering for displaced or affected people became critical. Large open spaces are naturally ideal for housing large populations quickly, making venues including stadiums, arenas, convention centers, hotels, churches, schools, and other large gathering spaces optimal for sheltering in the event of a disaster or incident.

When called upon to provide shelter space, it’s critical that owners of these large gathering spaces understand the limitations and capacities of their facilities. Preparedness planning prior to any disaster or incident is key to the success of a venue and the safety of those being sheltered.

Imagine an incident has occurred in your area requiring sheltering for 25,000 displaced people. If called upon, do you know the following information about your venue?

  • What is the maximum capacity of your venue for sheltering? It’s important to note that standard event capacity is a different number than sheltering capacity.
  • Are the building services at your facility able to operate at full capacity, 24 hours a day?
  • What is your responsibility as a venue owner during sheltering operations?
  • Do you have a venue use agreement in place for sheltering?
  • What are the various ways your venue could be used in a disaster scenario?

Understanding the ability of a venue to provide safe sheltering is a combination of venue amenities, building systems, and usable space along with what operations and services are to be provided. This process is called Shelter Development, a carefully balanced approach to determine the viability of a venue and its operations to host safe sheltering. The origins of this process were developed over a decade of planning, operations, and management experience in large multivenue, multisport events. These events are planned to the highest level of security, incident management, space and services utilization, and operations. Shelter Development is a process that merges the most effective planning tools from events, emergency management preparedness planning, and sheltering operations to create a new comprehensive approach to sheltering.

The first few hours after a disaster or incident are critical, and can be streamlined when owners understand their venues’ limitations and capacities and have coordinated with their local emergency managers. A venue shelter-development study provides peace of mind for venue owners by confirming that their facility is prepared to help, is able to provide safe sheltering for their neighbors, and is protected for future use in supporting their community.

Amber Walbeck is a partner at Crisis Ready Group along with her consultancy work on major events. She holds a Master of Science degree in Crisis and Emergency Management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.