More than 300 staff members stepped away from their role as educators for a few days to give the county's most vulnerable populations somewhere safe to weather the storm.

By 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, Tim Huth was pretty sure things were going to be OK.

The Mainland High School principal checked the news on a flat screen TV stuck in the lobby of the school’s gymnasium, where evacuees camped out inside could monitor the storm. He heard an update from the county’s Emergency Operations Center. And, finally, he started to believe the tropical storm-force winds and rain coming down sideways were not going to get any worse.

At that point, it had been more than a day without sleep for him, as he managed the school-turned-shelter for 269 evacuees ("guests," as he invariably called them) waiting out Hurricane Dorian and all the anxiety, frustration and confusion that came with it.

Mainland High was one of 14 schools that opened as shelters on Monday, run almost entirely by 325 school staff members working in shifts. Administrators, counselors, nurses, cafeteria and maintenance workers pivoted from their usual role — educating students — to provide safe places for the county’s residents most vulnerable to a huge storm.

In the end, Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald said the county “dodged a missile.” But in the past week, and really the past three months, the school system has been preparing to shelter thousands of residents with just a few days notice in the event of a storm, almost entirely on its own.

HURRICANE DORIAN: Assured of safety and power, shelter guests return home]

The county opened the Volusia County Fairgrounds, staffed by the American Red Cross and county personnel, to about 500 people, but 1,300 evacuees found a safe haven in Volusia County schools. At a cost of $10,000 per shelter, per day, it was no simple task for a school system with persistent budget problems going through a number of big changes, less than a month after school started.

“I just want people to know how hard Volusia County Schools works to address people in a time of need,” said Saralee Morrissey, the district’s director of planning who’s in charge of shelter planning too. “Our people are making personal sacrifices to do that.”

Here’s how they made it happen.

Wednesday, Aug. 28

Greg Akin, the chief operating officer for the school district, had already secured his own property by last Wednesday, well in advance of the slow-moving Dorian. He’s one of the leaders for the school district’s emergency shelter planning, and his job is to let everyone else know when to jump into action.

On Wednesday, when people were just starting to expect a storm, he let everyone know that more information was going to come the next day.

But long before then, in June, the district had already started planning. Staff identified which schools would be shelters and who would be on call to staff them. They had already checked the facilities and equipment at the schools. And they had begun reviewing the procedures with staff members who would be involved.

And long, long before then? Morrissey said the district has always considered shelter needs when building new schools or modifying existing ones.

“Other school districts have other facilities being opened as shelters,” Morrissey said. “For whatever reason (in Volusia), total dependency is on us.”

She and Akin pointed to Brevard County, where more than half of shelters during Hurricane Dorian were community centers, not schools. In smaller Flagler and St. Johns counties, only schools served as shelters.

Friday, Aug. 30

By Friday, school district staff members were canceling holiday plans to man the shelters over the long weekend. At this point, everyone thought that’s when Dorian would make landfall in Central Florida.

“We’re put on notice maybe 72 hours before landfall, now we’re expecting people to be prepared to have to serve,” Morrisey said. “This particular storm was so frustrating because it started moving so slowly, that three days out ended up being five days out.”

District staff monitors the storm’s path and its magnitude to figure out which shelters will open. Even though New Smyrna Beach High School could withstand high winds, for example, it cannot serve as a shelter if there’s expected storm surge. So the particulars of the storm matter.

Over the weekend, shelter operators prepared to open on Saturday, then Sunday, then finally Monday. And Morrissey found herself adding another task to her job description: cheerleader.

“I have to motivate,” she said. “I’m communicating as early as possible, because I know it does make a difference.” But, she explained, things aren’t always in her hands.

Monday, Sept. 2

Morrissey moved into the school district’s operations center on Monday at 8 a.m. Tim Huth got to Mainland High School at 9 a.m. Akin had already spent four full days working out of the county's Emergency Operations Center.

And then the shelters opened Monday at 10 a.m., with school workers an supplemented by law enforcement officers at each shelter, plus workers from the Department of Health at special needs shelters. People flowed into Mainland High, DeLand High, Sweetwater Elementary, Hinson Middle and other schools around the county.

They had to get registered, then settle in gyms and cafeterias, on air mattresses and beach chairs. Morrissey said the shelters often fill with older residents who live by themselves, and often people who have been to their local storm shelter before.

At Mainland, Huth said, they spent a lot of time on their phones, or watching the youngest evacuees play. They walked from the gymnasium to the cafeteria to eat meals. Huth gave updates on the storm every hour, and was met with applause.

“They were bored, I’m telling you,” he joked.

Across the county at DeLand High, Principal Melissa Carr said evacuees watched movies and popped popcorn; kids did crafts and adults read magazines.

In both schools, nearby businesses sent donations, like bread, blankets, donuts and pizza. It wasn't at all like a hotel, with no opportunity to shower and three meals a day served by the School Way Cafe, the district's cafeteria service. But it was safe for residents who lived beachside, in mobile homes or were homeless.

“It was actually somewhat relaxed, to be honest with you, because there was no real weather issue going on all day Monday, all day Tuesday, until late Tuesday,” Carr said. “Evacuees were offering to help (shelter staff), getting bored and stir crazy.”

Morrissey and Akin were at central locations, ready to offer support to shelters 24/7. By Tuesday night, it became clear that the storm was not going to bring winds of more than 100 mph or storm surges high above ground level. And Huth was relieved.

“Luckily, we didn’t get it,” he said. “I felt good for the people in our shelters. They had the less secure feeling of, ‘Wow, I wonder what’s happening back there. Is it gonna be OK when I get home?’”

Wednesday, Sept. 4

“We’re closing shelters,” Akin told Morrissey by 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday.

It was a relief for shelter directors to hear, Carr said. But it posed some logistical problems for Morrissey.

“It was absolutely crazy,” she said, explaining that the school’s transportation team and Votran had planned for a Thursday closure, and the transportation workers were all at home, not planning to come in.

“When you have a storm event, we the school district are not in charge,” Morrissey said. “The emergency management department of Volusia County is in charge. So at the end of the day, we have to take direction from them.”

A few hours later, despite the chaos, people were filing out of the schools to a county that emerged relatively unscathed from a storm that could have been catastrophic.

Friday, Sept. 6

With schools opening Friday, students could almost believe nothing happened, after thorough cleanings from custodial workers and inspections from maintenance crews. District officials barely let on that they've gotten little to no sleep for most of the week.

But there are still loose ends that will need to be tied up. For one, who’s going to pay the bill for opening shelters? At $10,000 a day, with four shelters closing up early, the price tag is somewhere in the ballpark of a quarter of a million dollars. That's the cost of supplies, like food, and labor, including overtime pay for staff where necessary.

The school district "is pulling from reserves to handle all of the costs incurred from sheltering,” Morrissey said.

[READ MORE: Hurricane Dorian's bill for Volusia, Flagler: $200,000 in property damage]

[READ MORE: Volusia County School Board eyes tax increase, reserve funds to cover deficit again]

The agreement states that the county will submit requests for reimbursement to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on behalf of the School Board. It does not say that the county will pay the School Board anything other than FEMA money.

The district has yet to announce if and when students will make up the three school days they were off for the hurricane.

And there’s always the possibility of another storm, when the schools would have to stop everything and provide the same service to the community.

“It’s a long process,” Akin said. “People don’t understand how much it takes.”