In the most recent of a series of emergency preparedness announcements, today Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco activated a four-step sheltering plan for the 2006 hurricane season. "We all pray this year will be a hurricane-free season for Louisiana," said Governor Blanco. "However, we stand prepared for several evacuations and are doing everything in our power to ensure a hurricane-safe season. That is why we have strengthened our sheltering capacity as part of our commitment to implement lessons learned from Katrina and Rita."
"The state is at a high level of readiness as we enter the 2006 hurricane season," Governor Blanco said. "Last year, we lived a tragedy when too many of our citizens could not or would not follow our pleas to evacuate. This year, I have insisted on a sheltering plan that increases our capacity to care for citizens who do not have the means to evacuate themselves."
The first three steps of Governor Blanco's plan provide a short-term solution to address the immediate needs of this year's hurricane season. The fourth step looks to the future and seeks to increase the long-term capacity of the state to shelter hurricane evacuees.
Governor Blanco's four-step hurricane sheltering strategy is as follows:
Parish-Identified Shelters for General Population: Louisiana has always relied on an extensive network of general population shelters opened and managed by parish emergency preparedness officials and their partners. This year is no different. We have an estimated 55,000 pre-identified spaces at our disposal, and are continuing to grow this capacity. We are increasing capacity in spite of our decision not to rely upon the availability of sites south of I-10. This is because the entire coastal region is at risk, and we must prepare for the possibility of multiple events within a short period of time.
Governor Blanco has instructed her Administration to work closely with faith-based organizations and other community groups to further increase our constantly expanding general population shelter network.
State-Identified Medical Special Needs Shelters: Louisiana is once again opening a series of state-identified medical special needs shelters that will provide safe-haven to over 2,000 medical special needs individuals. Our medical special needs shelters are ready to serve individuals triaged for medical needs that require the attention of medical professionals. The state is counting on our federal partners for supplemental sheltering space to add to state-identified shelter capacity.
State-Identified Critical Transportation Needs Shelters: State-run critical needs shelters are new to this hurricane season. These shelters were developed as a direct response to hurricane Katrina and Rita, and are dedicated state-opened and -controlled facilities reserved for citizens who do not have the capacity to evacuate themselves. Opening these facilities separate from our general population facilities will allow us to pre-designate locations for the critical transportation needs community.
We have identified over 6,000 spaces thus far, and are well on our way to growing this number to over 10,000 spaces.
State Farm Facility: Today, Governor Blanco discussed in detail the state's decision to utilize the State Farm Building in Monroe as a critical transportation needs shelter. The state will lease the State Farm Building until the first of November, when the state effectively takes control as the new owner of the property. The state is purchasing the State Farm Building site as the future home of Louisiana Delta Community College, and saw an opportunity to put the building to good use as a shelter during the interim months while design planning is underway. Demolition and clearing of the site will begin on November 1st, and will not delay the construction or completion of the new home of the Delta Community College.
Governor Blanco called the State Farm agreement "a win-win for Louisiana citizens. We are expanding our capacity for pre-designated critical needs sheltering at the same time as we are expanding our capacity for higher education."
In addition to securing the State Farm location, contracts are being prepared for several additional sites.
Long-Term Shelter Plan: Governor Blanco believes that, in the long-term, it is in the state's best safety and financial interest to establish a permanent state-run critical needs shelter. The Governor has tasked the Division of Administration's Director of Facility Planning and Control, Jerry Jones, to head up a team charged with developing a long-term sheltering solution.
This four-step sheltering plan puts Louisiana on sound footing moving into the 2006 hurricane season. Governor Blanco says the she "is confident Louisiana has developed a shelter plan we can all rely on as we put safety first this hurricane season."
Although we have made great strides, in the event of another catastrophe, our resources may not be enough. Governor Blanco and state emergency preparedness officials are working closely with our federal partners and neighboring states to supplement Louisiana's sheltering capacity.
The state has made clear to officials at the United States Department of Homeland Security and FEMA that in the event of another worst-case scenario, the federal government will be expected to step-up and work with us to shelter our displaced people. Working together at all levels of government will give citizens of the Gulf Coast the security they deserve.