Research Counts

Mass Sheltering and Disasters Special Collection

The Natural Hazards Center has once again partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring you a focused collection of Research Counts. This latest collection examines the public health aspects of mass sheltering and care with a special focus on at-risk populations.

Mass shelters are a critical, life-saving component of emergency response that provide communities with food, clean water, medical care, and other essential resources during a disaster. Substantial planning and coordination is needed to operate these facilities and ensure that the needs of disaster-affected populations are met. The special collection features articles, public health implications, further readings, and tools for practitioners. Drawing on the findings of a recent Government Accountability Office report, the collection is organized into the following four overarching themes:

  • Roles and Responsibilities for Shelter Operations
  • Leveraging Community Groups for Coordination of Mass Care
  • Mass Care Delivery and Capability Assessments
  • Mass Sheltering for At-Risk Populations

Research Counts articles are intended for a broad audience of public health practitioners, emergency managers, policy makers, journalists, and others interested in the impacts of disaster.

By Jolie Breeden, Rachel Adams, Lori Peek, Tracy N. Thomas, and Daire R. Jansson

Learn how this this special collection communicates the latest research on mass sheltering and disasters and how practitioners can use evidence-informed decision-making to improve shelter experiences.

Roles and Responsibilities for Shelter Operations

By Jennifer L. Federico

Learn more about the system that Wake County, North Carolina, implemented to ensure evacuation shelters were prepared to provide for household pets—increasing the willingness to evacuate and easing the stress of shelter residents.

By Ashley K. Farmer

Misconceptions about crime risk can keep people from accessing shelters during disasters—clearly communicating about safety is key.

By Juyeong Choi, Eren Erman Ozguven, and Tarek Abichou

When extreme events tax the carefully coordinated resources in shelters, community sectors often step in to fill the gaps. Identifying how they can help out before a disaster can make these resources extend even further.

By Darcy Sullivan and Joane Nagel

The inability to access adequate menstrual hygiene supplies in emergency shelters can make a stressful situation even more difficult for women and girls. Luckily, simple steps can be taken to address this important and sensitive public health issue.

By Jessica Austin

After people imperiled themselves for their pets in Hurricane Katrina, including animals in emergency plans became law. Learn more about resources that can ensure people feel comfortable sheltering with their animals.

Leveraging Community Groups for Coordination of Mass Care

By Michal Linder

Libraries play a central role in many communities; but when it comes to participating in disaster response, managerial outlooks might make all the difference.

By Michael Stajura

Public health planners that invest in building partnerships with community organizations, can see big payoffs in times of disaster. But they need to start the work before there’s a crisis.

By Rachel Adams

Although it takes time and resources, collaborating with community groups can drastically improve the capacity and effectiveness of public health agencies. Learn how to make such partnerships a success.

Mass Care Delivery and Capability Assessments

By Joshua G. Behr, Wie Yusuf, Jennifer L. Whytlaw, Nicole S. Hutton, Jennifer Marshall, and Kelsey Merlo

Prepping shelters during a pandemic is not business as usual. Find out how to plan ahead for a safer facility.

By Tener Goodwin Veenema and Mary Casey-Lockyer

Shelter residents often arrive with complex medical and mental health needs, but with careful planning, providers can assure access to necessary services.

By Amy Helene Schnall

Public health surveillance in disaster shelters is a critical to identifying immediate needs within shelters and health trends in general. See how it works.

By Kelsey Merlo, Katrina Conen, Wie Yusuf, Jennifer Marshall, Joshua G. Behr, and Elizabeth Dunn

Shelter work can be stressful enough without worries about contracting COVID-19. Learn what can be done to support worker mental health in a pandemic.

By Richard V. King and Carol S. North

Mass evacuation centers receive an influx of residents, all dealing with some level of trauma. Lessons previously learned from designing mental health services in such large-scale shelters can assist in meeting the needs of evacuees.

By Thanh Thuy Truong, Asim Shah, Wayne K. Goodman, Sophia Banu, Alison Salloum, Laurel Williams, and Eric A. Storch

Disasters are extremely stressful events and it's important that shelter residents can access help to cope. Ensuring that mental health resources are available and confidential can improve the outcomes of those staying in public shelters.

By Betty Pfefferbaum, Anne K. Jacobs, and Merritt D. Schreiber

It’s important to make sure children’s mental health isn’t overlooked in disasters. Learn how implementing a system involving triage, screening, and referral can improve their outcomes.

Mass Sheltering for At-Risk Populations

By Laura M. Stough

After a disaster, people with disabilities face different challenges in recovery. Laura Stough looks at the myriad of resources and services that need to be rebuilt with an eye to future resilience.

By Laura M. Stough and Elizabeth McAdams Ducy

For families whose children have special healthcare needs, preparing for disasters, evacuating, and finding shelter can be overwhelming—and missteps can be life-threatening. Luckily, steps can be taken to keep families safe and reduce stress.

By John Twigg

While people with disabilities often face obstacles in accessing emergency shelters, global policies are trending towards their inclusion. Read more about how we can equalize access.

By June L. Gin

The needs and experiences of those who are homeless during disasters can be very different from other populations, yet often emergency planning doesn't account for their specific needs. A targeted toolkit makes it easier to address that gap.

By Lori Peek

Religious considerations can play a role in whether or not people of faith decide to make use of public shelters. Read more about how we can ensure culturally competent shelters are available for Muslim Americans and other religious minorities.

By Sarah DeYoung

Small steps and a change of perspective about infant feeding in evacuation shelters could have big impacts on the well-being of mothers and children alike.

By Cindy L. Holle

Teaching mass care workers to recognize the signs of dementia, depression, and delirium in older adults can ensure safety and reduce the burden on shelter resources.

Special Collection Citation: Breeden, J., Adams, R. M., Austin, J., Peek, L. & Appiah, S., eds. (2021). Research Counts, Volume 4, Special Collection on Mass Sheltering and Disasters. Boulder, CO: Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder.


This Special Collection of Research Counts is made possible through supplemental funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1635593). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CDC, NSF, or Natural Hazards Center.