Seeking to learn from September’s Hurricane Irma, representatives from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security hosted a forum in Estero on Tuesday to learn from the experiences of residents during the storm and to see what could broaden their preparation for the next big storm.
The feedback showed a need for improvement in communication and access for the infirm and disabled.
“We need feedback from local agencies to make sure we cover any outlying contingencies that we may have overlooked or didn’t prepare for,” Cameron Quinn, DHS Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said, “It’s almost more important than the before status.”
Representatives from multiple local agencies, including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Lee County EOC, Disability Advocacy Groups, and the Florida Highway Patrol, among others, showed up to give explanations on behalf of their dealings and hopefully learn more.
The overall success of the resources and shelters was important, over 35,000 citizens in Lee County were housed during Hurricane Irma. This led to most of the shelters being at capacity.
One major issue discussed was that people that may live alone with disabilities don’t qualify for the same lines of access, as the Lee County registry reads, you must bring a caregiver. This issue was compounded by a shortage of volunteers. This means that, even if an individual is capable of taking care of themselves, to receive medical assistance, they would need to bring someone with them due to the lack of available assistance.
Resources and acquisition were mostly agreed upon as a success, with Lee County EOC asking for soft releases on some grant money on a federal level. Shelters are not covered in some of Florida’s emergency grant money, so FEMA will be assessing releasing some of those funds to preventative forces as well.
“This kind of information is invaluable, especially in the lanes of communication and making sure we are prepared for the needs of the medically disabled, these kind of situations are of dire importance,” Linda Mastandrea, from FEMA’s Disability Integration department, said.
Communication was a mixed bag, with Lee County and the Red Cross agreeing, since the Hurricane didn’t have an agreed upon projection, they were a little slower in rolling out shelter information, though being two weeks ahead was still impressive.
The biggest takeaway Tuesday was that access for the disabled is very lackluster in the region, and almost non-existent in Collier. Multiple church locations were added in Collier as last-minute shelters, and many have no access ramps. Some of the secondary shelters was barely accessible, and others were perfectly fine. FEMA said it planned to work with the state to get more information out there on shelter accessibility.
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