A. Opening and Operating Shelters
The Red Cross is mandated by Congress to provide mass care and shelter in any federally declared disaster. However, they also operate with the consent and cooperation of the local jurisdiction in which a disaster takes place. That jurisdiction has ultimate responsibility for the well-being of its citizens. Therefore, it is in the interest of all local jurisdictions to have a jurisdictional mechanism to coordinate and manage the care and shelter response. The City of Oakland identified in its Emergency Plan, the office of Parks and Recreation (OPR) as the local coordinating entity for shelters and mass care operations.
According to the Emergency Plan, the Red Cross is the primary agency to manage shelters, and OPR would help to:
Requests for shelters came to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). These requests were directed to the Emergency Services Staff who, in turn, identified and contacted schools which had been pre-designated as shelters, if needed. The Emergency Services Staff then requested the Red Cross representative at the EOC open and manage the shelters. The Red Cross was able to open shelters within hours of the earthquake.
There was some difficulty in getting access to schools as all administrators had gone home. Keys were located with the school police, who then became the main point of contact for the Red Cross which set up six shelters for more than 700 victims.
After the first few days, individuals, who could afford other housing or identified family or friends with whom they could stay, left the shelters. Those who remained behind were frequently Oakland citizens with scant resources. This population included: under educated, underemployed and unemployed, elderly living on social security, persons with emotional and substance abuse problems, and single parent households with minimal incomes. As a result, policing on a 24-hour basis was required. The Oakland Police could not be spared from their response duties to assume this job, although they did respond to specific requests from shelters for assistance. Consequently, a private Security firm was hired by Red Cross to handle Shelter security.
The security needs of the shelters were greater than available personnel, and the security firm had to hire additional staff just to meet the demand. Curtailing the usage of illegal drugs and suppressing tension in the shelters was necessary and disruptive. Large populations within the shelters made the management of these problems more difficult. Smaller shelters fared much better than larger ones. Under the circumstances, school administrators were reluctant to make further shelters available. In fact, they worked diligently to see that those shelters located in schools be closed as soon as possible.
At the request of the Red Cross the City considered using recreation centers as shelters, but these facilities lacked adequate sanitary facilities (restrooms and showers). This experience demonstrated that recreational facilities may not be an effective alternative to schools for shelters and that other publicly owned facilities should be identified.
Although the Red Cross had 4,000 volunteers, they did not have enough personnel trained in shelter management to meet the needs of a significant earthquake. Local Red Cross chapter resources were supported by National resources, brought in from outside the area. These resources were certainly welcome. These volunteers, however, were not culturally prepared to deal with the victim populations in the shelters. Cultural differences added to the already existing strain.
The East Bay Chapter of the Red Cross has addressed this problem by developing a class on cultural diversity. The curriculum has been approved as a pilot program that may become a part of the National Red Cross, disaster management courses.
There were a large number of volunteers for the Red Cross from the East Bay. This was partially due to a solicitation for volunteers, made by a local radio station. The call for volunteers was at the radio station's initiative, not requested by Red Cross. The Red Cross was deluged with untrained volunteers which unnecessarily challenged their management resources. To interview, register, train and manage new volunteers is time consuming.
Registration of volunteers was initially done by hand and did not provide a manageable mechanism for recalling volunteers when a specific need arose. In an attempt to maximize the available talent a computerized database for tracking volunteer resources was initialized. This approach was fortified by the temporary loan of computer hardware from a computer company, which eventually made this equipment a permanent donation. The company is now working with the East Bay Red Cross to create software to further aid in the management of disaster activities.
The lengthy time that the shelters were opened led to a shortage of adequate medical staff. Lacking sufficient volunteer nurses, East Bay Chapter chose to hire additional medical personnel. Shelters were also served by volunteer doctors. Their contribution was invaluable.
The Red Cross used one central kitchen to prepare meals for all shelters and emergency responders. Because so many shelters were immediately opened, the East Bay Chapter needed to locate a kitchen. No pre-existing arrangements for the use of kitchen facilities that were large enough to meet the demands of this emergency were in place.
The East Bay Chapter depended upon its working agreements with fast food chains and hot meal suppliers, until a disaster kitchen was established at the Scottish Rite Temple. Since the earthquake the East Bay Chapter has entered agreements with local kitchens in preparation for future disaster needs.
Building inspections revealed that several of the city's residential hotels had structural damage, which posed a threat to the occupants. Over one thousand units of single room occupancy (SRO) housing were lost in the earthquake. The SRO hotels, which contained these units, were evacuated over two weekends.
Residents had to be notified why they were being evacuated. Notifications were handled by the OPW Engineering and Design Services Division. OPW staff were assisted by interpreters and staff from the Office of Community Development (OCD), which frequently serves low-income populations. OCD, not only helped residents to understand why and where they were being moved to, but also helped them find replacement housing. This was a difficult task because OCD had no offices from which to operate and there were few low-income resources.
In some cases, residents resisted relocation. Park Rangers were utilized to supervise the evacuations as part of their law enforcement function. The Police were able to provide additional help when a group of residents proved particularly difficult.
Once residents were evacuated, they were transported from hotels to established shelters. The Emergency Services Staff at the EOC coordinated with Alameda County Transit (AC Transit), which provided buses and drivers to take evacuees to shelters. AC Transit was extremely cooperative in supplying transit. Their only requirement was that buses be met by a City representative to certify that passengers were entitled to be on the bus.
Red Cross shelters are usually open for a few days, but in this event, Oakland school shelters were not closed until mid November. Some victims, due to the lack of affordable replacement housing, required shelter for several months. They were transferred from temporary to long term shelters. The Red Cross, City of Oakland and Alameda County financially supported this operation through June 1990.
The Red Cross is mandated to provide immediate relief to victims of disaster. However, the long-term nature of this particular sheltering program drew many homeless people who were not technically victims. A continually changing victim population made it difficult to plan meals and manage the shelters.
After two weeks, Red Cross western operations directed the East Bay Chapter to require that shelter victims provide proof of residence prior to the earthquake. Anyone who left the shelter for more than 48 hours could not return. This relieved some of the problem, but it continued to be difficult to estimate the number of needed meals.
Since the earthquake, the East Bay Chapter of the Red Cross has assigned three full-time case workers to work with earthquake victims who have been unable to reestablish residency due to the lack of low-income housing within the City. This is new ground for the Red Cross. However, in most California cities, future planning must assume there will be large numbers of displaced people with few resources. Low-income housing units continue to shrink in number and much of the existing stock is relegated to older buildings which are more susceptible to earthquake damage.