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The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, & community efforts.

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Special Needs Shelter Program

Contact the Florida Department of Health

A Special Needs Shelter (SpNS) is a place to go when there is no other sheltering option. Shelters may be activated during an emergency event to provide mass care for people who cannot safely remain in their home. Special needs shelters are designed to meet the needs of persons who require assistance that exceeds services provided at a general population shelter. Special needs shelters are intended to provide, to the extent possible under emergency conditions, an environment that can sustain an individual's level of health.

The Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Preparedness and Response administers a statewide Special Needs Shelter Program to assist local communities in meeting the needs of special medical and vulnerable populations.

Purpose: To establish Special Needs Shelter standards, protocols, and technical assistance that can be integrated into the Florida Emergency Management System.

Mission: To develop a standardized, comprehensive, county, regional and statewide approach to Special Needs Shelter (SpNS) operation that ensures continuity in services and quality care to clients, caregivers and staff during their stay in a Special Needs Shelter.  

Vision: To provide services to Florida’s residents with access and functional needs during a disaster using a systems approach, integrating with community partners to provide the best possible sheltering experience.

SpNS Tools and Resources

This webpage contains a collection of tools and resources to assist local officials and planners, special needs shelter consultants, shelter unit leaders, nurses or others who may have a role in sheltering activities.

Statutes and Rules

F.S. Ch. 252.355—Registry of persons with special needs; notice.

F.S. Ch. 252.356—Emergency and disaster planning provisions to assist persons with disabilities or limitations.

F.S. Ch. 381.0303—Healthcare Practitioner Recruitment for Special Needs Shelters.

FAC 64-3—Florida Administrative Code—Rules related to Special Needs Shelters.

Operating Procedures and Guidelines

Internal Operating Policy: General 8 Special Needs Shelter Planning

Technical Assistance Guidelines: General 12 Special Needs Shelter Planning

Special Needs Shelter Operations Guide Revised 6-14-12



Special Needs Shelter Operations Guide Forms—Stand-alone copies of forms and reports linked to the Special Needs Shelter Operations Guide. Sample forms are provided to promote consistency in SpNS shelter operations throughout the state.

SpNS Intake Form
SpNS Job Action Sheets

SpNS Walk Through Survey
SpNS Sample Supply and Equipment List
Oxygen Packs
Staff and Volunteer Line List
Visitor and Family Sign In Sheet
Shelter Isolation Precautions
Shelter Guidance Respiratory
Media Permission and Release Form (English) (Spanish) (Haitian-Creole)

Required Activation Reports and Guidelines

SpNS Data Collection SOG


SpNS CHD Plan Assessment—This tool may assist counties when writing, reviewing or updating local SpNS plans.

SpNS Staffing Contingency Plan

Training and Education

Face-to-Face Trainings
Instruction is provided by regional special needs consultants with the assistance of the Bureau of Preparedness and Response state coordinator for SpNS.  Continuing education credit is provided for successful completion of these courses free of charge for Florida nurses by the Florida Department of Health.  For additional information contact your Regional Special Needs Consultant.

  • Special Needs Shelter (SpNS) Overview - A basic course for public health staff who may have a role in activation, operation and deactivation of SpNS. The course includes information on sheltering roles of both the Division of Emergency Management and Florida Department of Health, the definition of a special needs client, appropriate triaging and individual roles and responsibilities of shelter staff. Training and educational needs for staffing shelters is identified and discussed.



On-Line Courses

  • Nursing Refresher Skills Course - Developed by nurses to provide a refresher tool for providing medical care to people in special needs shelters. The course provides information to enhance nursing skills and confidence in the performance of those skills. The course is offered on-line through St. Petersburg College - select course #706. Continuing education credit is provided free of charge by the Florida Department of Health for Florida nurses or others in an included discipline who create a free Online CE account.
  • Special Needs Shelter Operations and Management – A basic course for public health staff who may have a role in activation, operation and deactivation of special needs shelters.  The course includes information on sheltering roles of the Division of Emergency Management and Florida Department of Health, the definition of a special needs client, appropriate triaging, and individual roles and responsibilities of shelter staff.  Training and educational needs for staffing shelters is identified and discussed.  The course is offered on-line through St. Petersburg College – select course #708.  Continuing education credit is provided free of charge by the Florida Department of Health for Florida nurses or others in an included discipline who create a free Online CE account.
  • Serving People with Functional and Access Needs in Shelters—Developed with a grant from the Florida Department of Health in partnership with the Florida State University and the American Red Cross. The course is hosted on the American Red Cross website. Training is designed to give participants an overview of functional and access needs, techniques for assisting people with functional and access needs in a sheltering environment and introduce related laws and guidelines. Persons can self enroll in the course at https://classes.redcross.org/. Search in the Learning Catalog under the "Courses" tab for the course title or course ID, DISFANS100.

Other Resources

Discharge Planning Resources

Florida Department of Elder Affairs Alzheimer's Disease Initiative and Resources

Florida Division of Emergency Management State Emergency Operations Center

Florida Division of Emergency Management Florida Hazards Page

Florida County Emergency Management Contacts

Florida's 2012 Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan—A guide for local emergency planning. The plan also provides advisory assistance to school districts contemplating construction of educational facilities and the need to provide public shelter space within those facilities. The plan is submitted for approval to the Governor and Cabinet by January 31 of each even-numbered year.

FDOH Chapter 110 Volunteer Position Description and Application

RSpNC Contact Information and Map

RDSTF Health and Medical Co-Chair map

Special Needs Shelter brochure—English  Spanish  Haitian-Creole

SpNS Videos—PSA1, PSA 1 with American Sign LanguagePSA2, PSA 2 with American Sign Language

Training, Exercise, and Evaluation—Link to Department of Health, Bureau of Preparedness and Response Training, Exercise and Evaluation Web page.

Special Needs Shelter Interagency Committee


If you have feedback or input on how to improve this toolkit or would like to share/submit additional resources for inclusion in the toolkit, send an email to the below address:

"Under Florida law, e-mail addresses are public records. If you do not want your e-mail address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone or in writing." - Fla. Stat. sec. 668.6076

Email: BPR_CommRes_CHDSupport@doh.state.fl.us

To contact us by phone call (850) 245-4040

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