Exploring Community Needs for Disaster Shelters Using Cultural Probes

During disasters, emergency shelters play a central role in emergency management, providing both a secure environment and centralized sites for the distribution of information, material relief supplies, and access to health and human services. Despite their importance, challenges such as physical access, public awareness, and peoples’ willingness to relocate limit the impact of both shelters managed by emergency responders and informal locations created by affected communities. This paper presents research conducted as part of a long-term project aimed at designing digital tools to assist communities and formal responders plan and manage emergency shelters. Working with partners in Puerto Rico, we developed and distributed cultural probes in three communities with recent experience of hurricanes and earthquakes to better understand the needs and resources of disaster affected people related to shelter. This approach yielded novel insights that challenge and expand traditional views of emergency shelters and identified several areas where HCI research and design can contribute to the sector.