FEMA introduces updated text-to-shelter feature

FEMA is launching a feature that would let Americans text to find an open shelter in the event of a major disaster. President Joe Biden is seen here at FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2021.

By Betsy Klein, CNN

(CNN) -- A safe place during a disaster is just a text away.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is launching an updated feature that would let Americans text to find an open shelter in the event of a major disaster.

Users can text "shelter" and their ZIP code to 43362 to receive a list of nearby shelters within 200 miles of the ZIP code. Per an announcement from FEMA shared first with CNN, users "will be able to click on the shelter address inside the text message and view directions."

"Disasters frequently disrupt communications systems which can leave survivors feeling overwhelmed and helpless when they are trying to locate shelters," FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a statement. "Since texting capabilities are often unaffected during disasters, our updated Text to Shelter option is an easy and accessible way survivors can locate nearby shelters with a tap of a button. This feature will help keep our communities safe."

The data on shelters is part of a collaboration between FEMA and the American Red Cross.

FEMA encourages Americans to save the number in their phone "today" in the event of a future disaster but also to "follow the immediate instructions of state and local officials."

FEMA previously had a text-to-shelter feature, but it only showed shelters within the ZIP code requested. Those shelters may not be the closest and could be subject to an evacuation order. The updated feature will show the three closest open options using geographic information system capabilities, per the agency.

The-CNN-Wire
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