Oklahomans on call for hurricane disasters
Oklahoma Shelter Program was developed to support Louisiana with sheltering and mass care needs in case of a hurricane or other disaster that requires evacuation.
There is no shortage of experience among Oklahomans in dealing with disasters — including hurricanes.
Since 2009, Oklahomans participating through various agencies have been ready to go to Louisiana to help in that state with evacuees if a hurricane approached the coastal state.
It's time again to stand by, with June marking the start of the North Atlantic hurricane season. But why a road trip? Why not stay at home and bring those affected in Louisiana to Oklahoma?
With Hurricane Katrina, and later with Hurricane Gustav, evacuees from Louisiana came to Oklahoma. With Katrina, they were sheltered at Camp Gruber in eastern Oklahoma, and, with Gustav, they were taken to the former Lucent Technologies plant in Oklahoma City.
However, if mass evacuations were needed now in Louisiana because of approaching hurricanes, emergency management and other disaster response officials from Oklahoma could be called upon to operate a shelter in Shreveport.
Under the Oklahoma Shelter Program, a project created by Oklahoma Emergency Management, 150 Oklahomans would be sent in the first wave, with another 150 rotated in and out as needed. Oklahoma's role is to have a plan in place, including equipment and trained personnel ready to activate when necessary to operate a large shelter for several hundred guests or more. This program was developed to support Louisiana with their sheltering and mass care needs in case of a hurricane or other disaster that requires evacuation.
The idea emerged during a meeting looking back on Katrina and Gustav. Host states that had received evacuees attended. There was a common question: “Why are we moving people out of Louisiana when the entire state is not affected?”
“Evacuations and sheltering is often crucial during a hurricane and this program can make that process easier on those affected,” said Keli Cain, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Emergency Management.
“When people are asked to travel far from their homes to shelter, it places a hardship on those individuals and takes them out of their comfort zone with no way of knowing when they will be able to return.
“With this program, the goal is to keep people closer to home and make the evacuation process easier and less stressful during an already difficult time.”
Louisiana has had 57 hurricanes, including 20 major hurricanes on records dating back to 1851, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Louisiana confirmed they had shelter space, said Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma Emergency Management director.
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