19. National Shelter System

Computer savvy ARES members with time on their hands might wish to look into helping their local Red Cross chapter as a National Shelter System (NSS) volunteer.  The NSS is a nationwide computer database designed to list all disaster shelters in the country.  There are over 55,000 shelters at present, many with a map of the shelter location attached.

The NSS actually consists of two separate databases – one maintained by the American National Red Cross and one operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  They exchange information regularly and are essentially interchangeable.  FEMA inputs information about government run and independent shelters, and the American Red Cross staff inputs information about Red Cross managed or partnered shelters.

In a large emergency, such as a fire involving many apartments, the Red Cross chapter will open a shelter rather than filling up an entire motel with their fire clients.  The Dayton Area Chapter did just that last week for an apartment complex fire in Trotwood.
NSS volunteers are trained to initiate an event in the system, open one or more shelters to support that event, report the populations of their shelters once or twice a day, close the shelters as their populations reach zero and close out the event that they opened days or weeks earlier.  When not working on a disaster, which is most of the time, NSS volunteers can update details about the shelters their chapter maintains in the database.  Michael, N8QHV, maintains about 100 NSS shelters in addition to conducting some specialized mapping work for National.

For more information about the NSS, visit your Red Cross chapter or contact N8QHV at Michael.schulsinger@redcross.org.