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County short of shelter space

November 27, 2005|By ERIN CUNNIGHAM

erinc@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A countywide disaster likely would cause about 15 percent of Washington County's estimated 139,000 residents to seek shelter provided by local government, according to Washington County Emergency Planner Stoyan Russell.

That's 20,850 people who would need a safe place to stay during a large-scale emergency. Russell said it was not clear, though, exactly how many shelter spaces the county has available for potential evacuees.

He said the county is waiting for capacity data on area public schools, which would be primary sites for mass sheltering.

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Russell said that according to most recent data, the county has about 3,500 shelter spaces available. Most of those are designated by the American Red Cross and have electricity generators.

Russell said the area's 1,709 available hotel and motel rooms could be used for emergency shelter, but none have electricity generators, making them unacceptable during a power outage.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency requires Washington County to provide shelter for 20 percent of its population - or 27,800 people - during an emergency, according to data provided by Russell.

Based on those figures, the county has a shelter deficit of more than 22,000 spaces, even counting the 1,709 hotel and motel rooms available.

The sheltering data provided by Russell was compiled in June 2004. It also states that area churches would have shelter spaces available, although numbers for those are not provided.

Russell said only a small portion of the population would require sheltering if evacuation were necessary. Others, he said, would stay with family members or care for themselves.

Washington County Emergency Services data estimates that 1.1 million people could flood into Washington County during a large-scale disaster in Washington, D.C., and parts of Maryland, most traveling on Interstate 70 and Interstate 81.

If residents from other areas were to come to Washington County for shelter, the county has a host-sheltering plan.

Russell said it is unlikely that host-sheltering would take place at the same time Washington County residents were being evacuated into area shelters.

Data shows that if evacuees from other areas come into Washington County they could do so at a rate of 9,000 vehicles per hour. About 63 percent of evacuees are expected to travel on I-70, using only the westbound lanes. About 33 percent likely would travel on I-81, and the rest on other roads, such as U.S. 40.

Data states that of the 1.1 million evacuees expected in Washington County, 17.5 percent - or 204,968 - of those would seek emergency shelter.

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