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Taking Shelter? Top Five Things You Need to Know About Special Needs Shelters

By Florida Department of Health, Office of Communications

September 18, 2014

Floridians know being prepared for hurricane season—having an emergency plan and supply kit—are essential for weathering the storm. Yet what if you have to seek shelter away from your home? Evacuations can be especially difficult for residents and visitors who have functional and access needs, special medical needs or are otherwise vulnerable during an emergency.

One way for those who have special medical needs to prepare is to pre-register now for access to a special needs shelter.

  1. Special needs shelters are different from general population shelters.
    A special needs shelter does not provide the comfort or convenience of a home or hotel, nor does it provide the level of care found in a medical facility. During emergency conditions, however, a special needs shelter will provide a safe environment to help maintain your current level of health to the best extent possible.
  2. You may be eligible to register for a special needs shelter if you have no other place to go and need:
    • Assistance with medication
    • Observation by a healthcare professional
    • Electricity for life supporting medical equipment
    • Assistance with activities of daily living
    • Oxygen therapy
    • Assistance to evacuate

    Eligibility criteria are defined in Florida Administrative Code 64-3. Be sure to check with your county emergency management office to determine if you are eligible. Pre-registering for a special needs shelter will ensure you have a back-up plan, however, if you can stay with family or friends or at a hotel out of the emergency area, you should consider that your best option.

  3. To register for a special needs shelter, contact your county emergency management office.
    Find out now if you qualify and what you need to bring with you in the event of an emergency. For more information or to pre-register, you can locate your county emergency management office by visiting
  4. Service animals are welcome at special needs shelters.
    Service animals (for example, dogs or miniature horses) are allowed in a special needs shelter. Keep in mind their care is the sole responsibility of the owner. You will need to bring all supplies to take care of your service animal.
  5. It’s never too late to register for a special needs shelter.
    Don’t wait until there is an emergency to register for a special needs shelter. Be prepared to bring medical supplies and current medications. Caregivers are highly recommended. When you prepare early, you and your caregiver can better cope with an emergency situation when it happens.

It is important to note not every person with a disability needs to evacuate to a special needs shelter. In fact, some people with disabilities can be safely accommodated in general population shelters.

The Florida Department of Health encourages individuals and families to contact their county emergency management office to find out more about pre-registration. By registering early, you’re helping local emergency responders to be better prepared to assist everyone during an emergency.

For more information, visit the Department’s special needs shelters webpage at

Additional steps caregivers can take are available here:

The Department’s Special Needs Shelter brochure is available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

The Department has Special Needs Shelter Registration PSAs available on YouTube:

September 2014 is National Preparedness Month! Now is the time to build or refresh your emergency plan and supply kit. Taking practical, proven steps to be prepared can help ensure your and your family’s health, safety and peace of mind.

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