Karen Adkins, emergency manager of McKinney’s Department of Emergency Management, and her staff partnered with the McKinney Fire Department, Visit McKinney, the McKinney Police Department and other city entities to shelter evacuees in an all-hands effort, city officials said.
“The city has stepped up and participated with natural disasters in the state, as far as sheltering and things such as that, but the model with the Sheraton is a little bit different than what we are used to in the past,” McKinney Fire Chief Danny Kistner said.
In the past, the city would typically provide a shelter in one central, large location. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the state has worked with local emergency management divisions to set up hotel rooms for evacuees instead and help maintain social distancing.
Kellea Collier, the general manager for Sheraton McKinney, said that as of Sept. 4, 115 rooms had been booked for evacuees. The hotel was also able to bring back “over a dozen” additional staff members back from furlough to assist with attending to evacuees.
“In addition to providing three hot meals per day, we’ve been pleased to accommodate these guests with a very comfortable, friendly environment during their stay,” Collier said in an email.
Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, sending many residents in its path fleeing to the north. The McKinney Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management began working with Visit McKinney to secure blocks of rooms at a number of hotels in the city for those seeking shelter from the storm.
The hotel rooms are paid for by the state to house evacuees who qualify. The state contract also provides them with three meals a day, Adkins said.
The contract with the state was for 100 rooms, but “quickly there was a need for more than that,” Adkins said. The city was able to continue filling rooms, and Adkins estimated McKinney is sheltering about 350 people currently.
The city, meanwhile, is helping with other wraparound services, filling in needs for people as they arise with the length of their stay. This could be anything from prescription pills to a forgotten toothbrush, she said.
“When you leave your home during an emergency or an evacuation, you're kind of getting out quickly, and so you don't always think to grab everything or take everything that you're actually going to need,” she said. “We try to help them secure those [items] by utilizing our partners and our nonprofits that we have in the community.”
Kistner said multiple city agencies were present to help with intake as evacuees showed up Aug. 27.
“It was a lot of city departments, but a lot of credit needs to go to the Sheraton also for all their effort and participation,” he said. “They really took care of everybody.”
While the city is continuing to provide shelter, any evacuee who does not have a place to stay and needs assistance can contact the Virtual Shelter Reception Center for Hurricane Laura Evacuees. The number to call is 888-991-5229, and callers should be able to provide documentation of residency in one of the affected Texas counties or Louisiana parishes. More information is also available at www.gov.texas.gov/hurricane.
“It's very humbling to be a part of maybe alleviating a little bit of the stress and the pain some of these folks are going through,” Adkins said. “Some of them have lost everything. They're going back to nothing. They have no home. They're trying to figure out their next step in life. And so being a small part of being able to assist them in some capacity is well worth the effort.”
Additional reporting by William C. Wadsack