Last September, with the threat of Hurricane Irma looming off the coast, many Southwest Florida residents with special medical needs found themselves without a plan for what to do in case of an emergency evacuation. With June ushering in the beginning of hurricane season, local officials are encouraging those who require care to register early for shelters specifically equipped to meet their needs
Special needs shelters are designed to keep important medical equipment like respirator, dialysis machines, or nebulizers running during a storm, as well as providing a more welcoming environment for those with Alzheimer’s, autism, or other conditions that could make a crowded general shelter less than ideal.
“The special need shelter provides power for those pieces of [medical] equipment, and for people with medical issues that would make a public shelter a difficult place during a storm,” said Debbie Quimby, a Special Needs Program Specialist with Lee County.
Both Lee and Collier Counties have opened registration for their special needs shelters. Quimby said that it is important for individuals to register in advance because Lee County stops their application process after the area enters the five day forecast cone for a hurricane. Demand can spike when a big storm is approaching causing delays.
“We found that to be a big issue during Irma. So many people that didn’t have a plan realized with that big storm they needed to do something,” said Quimby. “That put a huge burden on registering at the door and triaging at the door, so their were long lines.”
Registrations are only good for one year, so even if they completed the process in 2017, it is still important that those requiring a special needs shelter sign up again for 2018. After the application is successfully processed, the individual will receive a confirmation letter with instructions on what to do if the shelters are opened.
Quimby said that emergency shelters should be used as a last resort, but that even if a resident does not plan to evacuate to a public shelter, it is still important to register so that county officials can have an accurate count of how many people would require special care during a hurricane in a worst-case scenario.
“We would like people to register as their back up plan. We would like them to have another plan other than a shelter and if they register and they don’t come to the shelter that’s find, they are not penalized, we are not upset by that.
If you or a loved one needs to register for a special needs shelter click below:
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