Lessons learned from 2005 convention center shelter

Austin Convention Center (City of Austin)
Austin Convention Center (City of Austin)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Soon buses could head to Austin’s current emergency shelters, pick up evacuees and bring them to the Austin Convention Center in an effort to consolidate the shelters into one mega-shelter. In all, the shelter could hold 2,500 people  if activated.

The Red Cross says officials haven’t decided yet whether to open the mega-shelter. It depends on how many evacuees come to Austin. For now, the current Austin shelters will remain open and the Austin Convention Center is standing by as an overflow shelter.

It’s a scenario that played out in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. Thousands stayed at the Austin Convention Center for more than three weeks. But 12 years ago city officials didn’t plan on evacuees staying as long as they did inside the convention center. This time, Austin Mayor Steve Adler hopes to make conditions better as officials prepare for evacuees to stay for an extended period of time. An exact timeline has not been determined.

Adler says he wants to make sure the emotional well-being of evacuees is taken care of, and that means bringing in CVS to run a pharmacy, HEB to provide food, and Walmart is expected to provide additional supplies.

Adler says one of the big lessons learned from 2005 is to be aware of the number of evacuees being housed inside the convention center.

“We learned that we put too many people into the space in the convention center and we have to be more judicious about our spacing,” Adler said.

Travis County Commissioners have approved the Travis County Expo Center as an additional shelter if it’s needed.

Sharon Taylor evacuated from Rockport before the storm hit and arrived at the Delco Center. The idea of moving again doesn’t sit well.

“We’re all set up in there,” Taylor said. “And there’s already long lines for food and other things, so if there is going to be thousands of people, there’s going to be even longer lines. Nobody is looking forward to being moved.”

Marlene Knight returned to the Delco Center Tuesday night after visiting her RV in Rockport to find nothing left. She says that means she’ll be calling Austin’s shelter home until she figures out what’s next. But the small number of people staying at the Delco Center has been comforting and the thought of going where there could be thousands of others like her will be tough.

“It’s just an anxiety thing for me, I don’t like being around a lot of people but I’ve kind of gotten used to it. There are a lot of people leaving, going back to Houston mainly, I personally don’t think it’s a good idea.”

The American Red Cross set up thousands of cots and food stations inside the convention center Wednesday to prepare for the influx of evacuees. Adler says FEMA will foot the bill for the shelter since Travis County was declared part of the federal disaster declaration.


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