Tips from an interview with Mike Tripodi, a Board member and member of the Adult Support group of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region in Albany, NY. Mike is also a Volunteer Shelter Manager for the American Red Cross, Eastern NY Region. He has some advice from his experiences as an individual who is on the spectrum for others who are on the spectrum and who may have to evacuate to a disaster shelter.
There are a couple of issues that will affect many who are on the spectrum when it comes to disaster shelters.
1. Noise and Lack of Quiet Space.
Shelters are generally a large open space with about a hundred people. They are noisy, public spaces 24 hours a day. Sometimes they may have lights that can’t be shut off, and it is very tight quarters. Encourage members to bring noise canceling headphones, comfort items, bedding and toys. Anything you need in public places, bring. Often in evacuation situations there may be a lack of cots, blankets and 90% of the time there are no pillows provided. After the storm, these supplies will be more available due to having time to ship them into the area.
Pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters due to many reasons – health code regulations, sanitary reasons and shelter safety. Often pet shelters are set up in conjunction with a human shelter, so that people can be close to their pets. However this may not be the case depending on the local resources of the county, town or local Humane Society or ASPCA. Service animals are allowed, however, that does not include comfort animals. Bring paperwork. Locate pet shelters by calling 211.
3. At Registration, Advocate for Dietary/Sensory Needs.
When registering for the shelter, make sure you notify them of your sensory needs and special dietary needs. You will need to be interviewed by the Disaster Health Services, Disaster Mental Health, or the Disabilities Integration Staff. They will interview you and ask a series of questions to assess your needs. These are completely confidential. One person can act as a spokesperson for a household, if that is easier. They will work with you if you need medications but you should bring your medications. Generally the feeding manager can accommodate your needs, but it may take an initial 24 hours to get in place. If you have issues with salt and are given MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) or heater meals, be aware they have more salt content than a regular meal. They also are high calorie items.
Disasters will often disrupt routines. After a few days, shelters will develop a routine, and will try and stick to it for the rest of the response. Lights on/Lights Off and meals will eventually be scheduled. In disaster shelters, they try to establish routines – they call this the “New Normal.” Shelters run daily town hall meetings. You can volunteer to help with cleaning, setting up cots, food distribution, etc.
Also a personal plea: At the shelter please know that everyone there is working their best to meet everyone’s needs. The workers are 98% volunteers who are from all over the country coming together to help the community that is impacted. They are under a lot of stress working 20 hour days, sleeping on a cot, and far from home. Remember to thank them, and help them help others.
Again, you can find info on open shelters and what to bring to a shelter at this website:
Or download the Red Cross Hurricane or Emergency App from your appstore – you can search for shelters and get alerts!
This information is specific to Red Cross run shelters. Those by other agencies may be slightly different but generally the same.
Mike Tripodi has been a Red Cross Volunteer for 19 years, and has responded to many natural and man-made disasters over the years. He currently serves as a member of the Northeast Division Disaster Response management Team, and has a local disaster responder in the Northeastern NY Chapter. In addition to his Red Cross Roles, Mike is also a Firefighter / EMT with the Shaker Road Loudonville Fire Department, and is an EMT with the Delmar- Bethlehem Emergency Medical Service. Mike was diagnosed five years ago, and has been involved in the Autism Society of the Greater Capital District.