Hoarding Action Response Teams are Activating

room with hoarded items

Photo credit

 In these perilous days the wise and prudent person sees danger and prepares.  Our just-in-time delivery system works only if all the conditions are perfect.  In a disaster, as we saw with recent winter storms, the infrastructure quickly breaks down.  Whether you wan to be prepared for weather, earthquakes, or your own personal concerns such as an economic downturn in your life, you will need tools and supplies to get you through. 

Since 1999 government has been mobilizing strategies to combat what they perceive as hoarding.  They have made tremendous strides in their campaign.  For instance, the City of Vancouver in Canada, has a Hoarding Action Response Team.  

Over the next months you will notice firefighters being trained to take proactive steps against hoarders.  You will see firefighters using the same template that they have for Defensible Space to minimize wildfires only this strategy will include the inside of your home. 

Hoarding has a very subjective definition and is in the eyes of the beholder. For instance, having two dogs or two chickens, in some areas can qualify you to be labeled as a hoarder. Having more 'essentials' than the government recommends, can activate the Hoarding Response Team to your home for a mental evaluation.  Lest you think I am naive, I have been in some of the homes that would definitely be considered 'overkill'.  Homes, where there are paths around the house and no place to sit or eat.  Even then, it should be a person's free choice to live as they desire. 

This comes at a very provocative time in our history when you need to make preparations.  There is another piece of this puzzle and why this is coming to light as this precise time.   It will have to come in another article, maybe this week.  The article is framed, but needs some additional research.

Fire Fighter Education

Firefighters are being education on the following:

Hoarding poses increased fire safety risks as hoarded items often include combustibles — such as reading materials or clothing. Hoarded materials may also impede escape in the event of fire and can impair first responder entry, navigation and exit. Hoarding is identified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder characterized by the accumulation of clutter to the point where it interferes with the functional use of the home. Between two and six percent of the general population, those people who are awake and take a proactive role in self-sufficiency, is claimed to suffer from the hoarding disorder.

Mental Health Hoarding Disorder

An effective intervention into a hoarding situation by fire departments and community agencies can be difficult. Residents may:

  • Be embarrassed about their behavior.
  • Lack the organizational skills to make necessary changes.
  • Be overly attached to belongings.
  • Lack insight into dangers posed by hoarding.
  • Revert to the same behavior if moved to a new location.
  • Reject the authority of enforcement officials.

City of Vancouver’s HART Hoarding Intervention Team

The City of Vancouver has formed a multi-agency Hoarding Action Response Team (HART) comprised of fire and property inspection departments, along with mental health workers from the city’s health department. Their purpose was to build a coordinated intervention whenever hoarding cases were identified.

The Protocol

 Upon referral, a fire inspector and health official will:

  • Make an initial visit to see if the case is serious enough to warrant an intervention.
  • Assess home safety and the physical and mental health of the resident.
  • Work to develop a good relationship with the resident to get voluntary entry for the fire inspection.
  • Determine if a situation involves imminent danger. Such a situation triggers immediate action by the HART. This might include steps such as installing smoke alarms, disconnecting the stove if open flames are near combustible items, and in extreme cases, barring anyone from living in the home until the danger is resolved.
  • Communicate the health and safety concerns to the resident(s) following inspection. The HART will then develop an intervention strategy that often involves repeated visits to the home to ensure progress is made toward compliance with safety issues.

The team will also make referrals for social, health and mental health resources. Health workers may assist by:

  • Advocacy with landlords.
  • Engaging social services.
  • Helping the resident set manageable weekly goals.
  • Educating family members and the resident about hoarding.

Hart Intervention Takeaways

  1. Hoarding cases can be particularly challenging if there are many fire code violations or if the hoarder is a homeowner. Homeowners have strong property rights and can delay inspections and withhold cooperation.
  2. Hoarding cases require patience. For this study, cases took an average of 4 ½ months to resolve. Ninety-four percent of the cases were successfully resolved by using an informal, relationship-oriented strategy.
  3. Build goodwill and form a supportive relationship first. Offer community services, such as free smoke alarm installation, to gain voluntary admittance for the initial inspection. Raise the possibility of legal sanctions, such as fines and eviction, only if necessary.
  4. Invest resources into hoarding intervention. You must ensure inspectors are trained to recognize when egress problems or excessive combustibles pose an imminent danger or when a slower approach is acceptable. Train staff to understand hoarding as a mental illness and how to effectively collaborate with other community agencies.
  5. Communication is key. All team members must be consistent in their communications with hoarding residents, so good case notes are essential. Hoarders often may not fully recognize the severity of their problem and their motivation to make changes can fluctuate. For the best success, give clear, specific and manageable goals to hoarding residents.

Many of you may be unaware that all properties are required to have a global/federal asset code attached to them if you have potential to make $1000, not that you are making $1000 at your property.  This includes apartment and condominium owners as well for you certainly could have a little startup business in your home. 

When you do stock up with preparations you do need to learn how to manage those preparations.  That is part of the art of wisdom of this Preparedness Skill-Set.  My concern is that there are certain Executive Orders at all levels of government ready to unload your hoarded supplies  as an asset of the government.  There is no doubt, that our current laws and regulations have made that threat very real to your family. 


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Celeste has worked as a contractor for Homeland Security and FEMA. Her training and activation's include the infamous day of 911, flood and earthquake operations, mass casualty exercises, and numerous other operations. Celeste is FEMA certified and has completed the Professional Development Emergency Management Series.

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Kowk, N., Bratiotis, C., Luu, M., Kysow, K., Woody, S., Lauster, N. (2018). Examining the role of fire prevention on hoarding response teams: Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services as a case study. Fire Technology: 54 (1), pp 57-73. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-017-0672-0