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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

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.
  • Nursing Refresher Skills Course (Hands-On) – This course provides the opportunity for didactic and hands-on skills practice. 

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 2016 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

Regional Special Needs Program Consultants Contact Information and Map

Regional Domestic Security Task Force (RDSTF) Health and Medical Co-Chair map

Special Needs Shelter brochure—English  Spanish  Haitian-Creole

Special Needs Shelter Videos with Service Animals
English with American Sign Language

Special Needs Shelter Videos with Children
English with American Sign Language
Spanish with American Sign Language
Creole 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

The Special Needs Shelter Interagency Committee is championed by the Bureau of Preparedness and Response and includes approximately 35 members from different state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other local associations.

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


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