Special Needs Evacuees

The Atlantic hurricane season begins this week and state officials are attempting to get every special needs resident registered for evacuation assistance. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Special needs patients in hospitals and nursing homes will be transported by the organizations they are staying in. But there are thousands of people in the area who live at home and are unable to evacuate without assistance. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King is a member of the Governor's task force on evacuation, transportation and logistics.

"Part of this puzzle that nobody really knows what to do with are the home health care folks. And it may be a population of 30-or 40,000 people in the Houston area. There's not a good registry of them. Exactly what you're going to have to do for them is not clear because, obviously, they range dramatically in the kinds of health issues that they're dealing with. And that to me is the really vexing problem."

Anyone who has special medical or transportation needs is eligible for evacuation assistance in the event of a hurricane. Last year, when Hurricane Rita threatened the Texas Gulf Coast, emergency management officials were left scrambling to figure out who needed help getting out of the path of the storm. This year, Galveston County Emergency Management Coordinator John Simsen says they're registering people through a statewide program.

"If we don't know ahead of time who these folks are, it's going to be very difficult for us to make arrangements to get them out. So I would strongly encourage folks to call 2-1-1 because that information is going to be -- is going to come back to each of our individual jurisdictions. All the cities and the counties will get that information back and can then put that into their databases and then can plan accordingly to make sure those folks don't get left behind."

The City of Galveston is also making special preparations for special needs evacuees. Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas says buses, shelters and medical care are all part of the city's updated evacuation plans.

"If a storm is going to make landfall in Galveston, we can begin to evacuate those citizens by having them gather at our island community center. We will triage, put them on buses with medical assistance from the University of Texas Medical Branch and head for the city of Austin."

Special needs residents in any part of the state can call 2-1-1 to register for evacuation assistance. There's a short list of questions to answer over the phone which helps route the request to the proper jurisdiction and to rate the medical needs of each caller. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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