Hurricane Katrina, in August 2005, reminded communities near the coast just how dangerous hurricanes can actually be. Rita came quickly after that in September of '05, causing clogged roadways and heightened anxiety.
Mandatory evacuation from Galveston revealed shortcomings in the process. It led Harris, Galveston and Brazoria Counties to ask the Houston-Galveston Area Council to create a program known as Together Against the Weather.
Cristin Emshoff is the Transportation Planner of the H-GAC.
"Together Against the Weather was programmed after Hurricane Rita and the reason for it was there was a lot of chaos and our emergency management community decided that we really need someone to look at our special needs populations because we didn’t plan very well for them."
H-GAC created a task force to reach out to neighborhood centers and service agencies, sush as Meals on Wheels to better understand the needs of the community.
"And so when we did that we found out that our translations were really poor and we needed to work with our Spanish communities and our Vietnamese communities and work on getting some media materials out."
So far, the program has produced materials in four different languages and is planning to add Chinese in the coming months. Francisco Sanchez is with the Harris County Office of Emergency Management. He says filling this communication gap has been central to the program.
"There is a message in a flier in a brochure, in multiple languages that they develop for us as emergency managers that get some of the key points across from dialing 211 to making sure they have an understanding of what’s going to happen during a hurricane."
The main focus of Together Against the Weather is to encourage those with special needs to have a plan ready and a support system in place well before a hurricane comes. David Jobe is with the United Way Helpline. He says friends, family and neighbors can help.
"Check on those people that you know that you think might need a little extra help. The people in your neighborhood that are elderly or disabled. Maybe you could be their backup support system."
Melissa Loe is with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. She says like anyone else, those with special needs should make sure they have the resources to get through an emergency situation.
"Not just think about hurricanes, but to prepare for any disaster that may create flash flooding that will prevent them from leaving their home, or that could cause any power outages, especially if they have any medical equipment that relies on electricity. They need to have a backup plan."
This back-up plan extends to evacuation says Sanchez with the Harris County Office of Emergency Management. He wants those who may not be able to leave their home to know they should register for emergency evacuation by calling 2-1-1 as soon as possible.
The 2-1-1 number provides over 150 language options.