Partnerships Could Help Jackson County Shelters

A series of partnerships could mean changes in how emergency shelters are run in Jackson County.

On Wednesday community leaders, elected officials and emergency responders gathered to critique their Katrina response and access the needs for the upcoming hurricane season. One of the biggest needs will be shelter space.

In Jackson County, the American Red Cross has designated four shelters that can be used during a major hurricane. With the June 1st start of Hurricane Season on the horizon, Red Cross Director Paige Roberts is reaching out to other agencies to help meet some of the needs.

In a category 3 hurricane or higher hurricane, the Red Cross will not open shelters south of Interstate 10 in Jackson County. That leaves room for 2,500. In a major storm, that space could fill up fast so Red Cross officials are looking north.

Roberts said the agency is looking at what capacity is in George County.

"We'll still have some space there available, but again, it's still possible we could max out capacity there as well."

Roberts told a group of Jackson County leaders another challenge will be just getting people to the shelters. That's why her agency is looking for possible solutions from local schools districts and CTA.

"Instead of doing door to door pick ups, we'll have stops set up throughout the county where the people who need transportation to the shelters will have it. Then we'll shuttle the people to the shelters," said Roberts.

Right now the Red Cross is working with Singing River Hospital System to set up a special needs shelter in Jackson County. The state also plans to open these types of shelters, but the closest one would be in Hattiesburg. Roberts believes evacuees with special medical needs would feel more comfortable closer to home.

"I think that when people have special needs, that they're already less apt to travel far. Some people don't leave because of their special needs. This plan that we're developing would help meet some of those needs on their behalf and put them in a better, safer environment."

Roberts stresses the shuttle service and the shelter for special needs are not yet definite. However, she is hopeful everything will be in place by June 1st.