Workforce: Evacuations, Shelter Staffing, Workforce Structure, Capacity, PPE, and Telemedicine, June 10, 2020, Workshop Conducted Virtually
Participants in the breakout sessions for the CONVERGE COVID-19 Working Group’s Workshop 5 (Workforce) identified several issues, including unique staffing challenges for this compound event, needed training revisions to address shelter protocols specific to COVID-19, additional staffing needs based on the unusual use of congregate and non-congregate shelters to address COVID-19 risks, and the increased need for ancillary services for staff and volunteers during and after an event.
Ensuring shelter operations are maintained despite COVID-19 will require adequate staffing. Layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes have affected base employee numbers, where many jurisdictions rely on county and city employees, along with volunteers, to staff shelters. Shelter staffing could be further limited by the exclusion of employees who may be medically vulnerable because of underlying health conditions or at higher risk based on their age. In addition, staff may be reluctant to report to shelter assignments over fear of exposure to COVID-19; they could opt to stay home or refuse shelter assignments. To mitigate these risks, shelters must implement physical distancing and other specialized procedures to limit potential exposure, which, in turn will lead to greater needs in staffing (e.g., atypical sanitation work to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19) and resources (e.g., personal protective equipment)—not only to ensure the safety of both shelter staff and evacuees, but also to alleviate staff fears and concerns.
In light of the compound nature of this hurricane season during an ongoing pandemic, there will be additional responsibilities and stressors for hurricane shelter staff and volunteers that indicate additional training needs. Many jurisdictions require that city or county employees serve as essential staff during disasters and receive annual training for these roles. However, this training does not address how to respond during a hurricane-pandemic event. Additional training components are needed; however, many jurisdictions have already hosted their annual training sessions.
The use of congregate and non-congregate shelters imposes unusual staffing requirements that affect the logistics of workforce staffing. More congregate shelter locations will be needed to achieve distancing requirements and non-congregate sheltering also may be used to shelter evacuees who are medically vulnerable—both will create additional staffing demands, in some cases, highly specialized (e.g., onsite medical personnel). In addition, further clarity is needed about who will staff non-congregate shelters (e.g., hotel workers or traditional shelter staff).
Participants also identified ancillary resources needed to support and protect staff (e.g., call centers to support individuals seeking information). While technology can be an important resource (e.g., touch-free intake devices and telehealth systems), potential power and internet disruptions create limitation. Staff also will need medical and epidemiological support to monitor symptoms and track outbreaks within the shelters. Ensuring the psychological well-being of shelter staff and evacuees also will require atypical ancillary resources.
CONVERGE NSF Working Group; Behr, Joshua G.; Yusuf, Wie; Marshall, Jennifer; and Dunn, Elizabeth, "Workshop #5: Workforce: Evacuations, Shelter Staffing, Workforce Structure, Capacity, PPE, and Telemedicine: After-Action Report (AAR)" (2020). Presentations, Lectures, Posters, Reports. 25.