Tips: Stocking, Staffing & Organizing Shelters

Share on Social Media

A high school gym setup as a disaster shelter with rows Red Cross cots and blankets.

A Red Cross shelter is setup at Immokalee Highi School in Immokalee, Florida, to support residents displaced by Hurricane Irma. Photo provided courtesy of FEMA.


As part of disaster planning, every community should have multiple shelter locations identified and assessed. These tips provide a starting point for communities to plan and prepare for getting fully-stocked, staffed and organized shelters in place quickly after a disaster.

Pre-stock shelters with enough supplies. 

  • To avoid chaos, supplies like water, non-perishable food, chairs, cots and blankets should be positioned at the shelter before any residents arrive. Residents should be made to feel comfortable upon arrival.
  • Evaluate the maximum capacity of each shelter prior to a disaster, and ensure that each shelter is stocked with enough resources to accommodate their maximum capacity.

Establish a clear leader of shelter operations.

  • There should be a single person identified as leading shelter operations. Make it clear to stakeholders assisting with the effort that they should only be reporting to and taking command from the identified leader.

Give shelter staff, especially volunteers, specific assignments.

  • Create a schedule that assigns each staff member to a specific assignment, such as registering residents at the door, leading activities for children or serving meals.

Implement a system for registering and locating sheltered residents.

  • Each cot should be assigned a number and a designated location, which can then be assigned to a resident upon registration and recorded in a log. Residents should be directed to store their personal items in their assigned location.
  • Shelter logs should be shared between all shelters in the community to help identify missing residents.
  • Refer to your log when residents call or come in to shelters searching for family members – you can provide their shelter location, and where in the shelter they can be found.

Designate areas for pets and special needs residents.

  • If your shelter is housing pets, use signs to siphon off a separate area for pets to ensure residents with allergies aren’t impacted.
  • Reserve a portion of the shelter for special needs residents. Be sure to note any special accommodations and carefully store medicine.


See the US Agency for International Development’s Shelters and Shelter Management Reference Guide for more information about the process, standards duties and responsibilities associated with setting up and maintaining a disaster shelter, in addition to checklists for every step of the way.

Contact Us

Comments or Questions? Reach out to IBTS.

    Stay Connected

    Stay up to date with all the latest IBTS news.

      Full navigation