Every year, thousands of people evacuate their homes for a variety of reasons, including severe weather emergencies. Many of the steps to prepare for an evacuation apply to everyone, but certain groups require special attention. Among those are people who cannot drive due to physical or mental limitations, or lack of a personal vehicle. Emergency planning for this group begins with a deepened awareness of an individual’s situation, including discussing potential hazards with friends, family and co-workers. During these conversations, people should explore their community’s mitigation plan, and try to identify potential barriers to personal safety. Those without transportation should try to make car-sharing arrangements with community members. Also, knowing evacuation routes and having a store of local maps is important, even for those who do not drive.
If after talking to family members, neighbors and coworkers, transportation has not been found, those with special transportation needs should contact their local emergency management agency. Many county emergency management offices have services for people who do not have access to private vehicles in the event of an evacuation. Some regions address people with special needs exclusively, such as the elderly or disabled. Others combine everyone who needs transportation into one group.
In Carteret County, N.C., for instance, announcements regarding transportation services are posted for residents in newspapers and sent in the mail with utility bills. The county checks contact information annually. If an evacuation is ordered, the county provides the local Carteret County Area Transportation System (CCATS), with a list of people needing assistance. CCATS then brings residents to the closest open shelter. Miami-Dade County, Fla., also requires residents to register if they need transportation assistance, but their bus system will operate along a set evacuation route during an emergency. Residents can find the closest pickup point in the county by dialing 311 locally.
Most counties ask individuals needing assistance in the event of an evacuation to register well in advance of any emergency. It is important to register at the county level, to keep personal contact information updated and to take all required steps once an evacuation is ordered to ensure safe delivery to a shelter.
Creating a disaster kit also helps individuals who cannot drive plan for how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe during an emergency. To get started, visit www.ready.gov and see their disaster supply kit list. A three-day (72-hour) supply of food and water is suggested in addition to extra clothes, a portable weather radio and important family documents. The question now is, how does one evacuate with all of these things and no private mode of transportation? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website provides evacuation information for people with limited mobility, which includes people with disabilities or those who lack private transportation. Those who evacuate will likely have to leave belongings behind, but having a complete kit assembled will at least provide the option of bringing supplies and necessary belongings.
Not all disaster kits look the same, and it is best to have multiple kits ready in the event of an emergency. Those without space to bring a full-sized disaster kit during an evacuation should put together a backup kit better suited to their specific needs. For people relying on public transportation, having a waterproof bag and clothing is especially important.
Many of the suggested items, such as a flashlight and batteries, medication, hand sanitizer, a whistle and a portable weather radio, are small enough to carry. While it would be difficult to bring a three days’ supply of food and water, it is possible to bring some food. Fatty, high-protein or salty foods are best. Another way to reduce the size of your kit is to convert several bulky paper documents, which are difficult to transport during an evacuation, into a digital copy to store on a flash drive.
If severe weather threats lead to evacuations, this can create a state of panic among some residents, no more so than with people who lack private transportation with which to leave home With a disaster plan in place, those without a private vehicle can ensure their safety in the event that an evacuation is issued for their community.