When a hurricane evacuation is ordered, firefighters rush to take elderly and disabled residents to emergency shelters tailored to their needs.
The patients, some of whom depend on wheelchairs or respiratory equipment, have no family or friends to help them evacuate. And evacuating someone with special needs requires at least two firefighters.
But firefighters won't come unless people with special needs register with their local emergency agency — preferably ASAP.
St. Petersburg firefighter Pat Vines, who manages the city's evacuation database of about 500 people, calls everyone on the list before hurricane season. He inquires about their evacuation zone, whether they can go out of town and if they depend on electricity for survival. This helps prioritize evacuations.
"Our database is for those people who have no other means for shelter or transportation," Vines said.
About 4,000 people can wait out a storm in three special-needs shelters in Pinellas County. For more information, call (727) 464-3800 or visit: pinellascounty.org/emergency/specialneeds.htm#register
Pasco County has enough space for 1,100 residents with special needs. More could be added if needed, said Jim Martin, the county's emergency management director. For information, call (727) 847-8137 or visit: pascoemergencymanagement.com.
Hernando County has space for 843 residents in special needs shelters. For information, call (352)754-4083 or visit: hernandosheriff.org/em.
Hillsborough's special needs shelters can house 2,500 people, said Keely Smith, the Hillsborough's special needs shelter coordinator. For more information, call (813) 276-2385 or visit hillsboroughcounty.org/emergency/programsservices/specialneeds.cfm.
In Citrus County, residents should call (352) 249-2707 or visit: sheriffcitrus.org.
The coordinators discourage last-minute registrations, but you won't be turned away if you wait until the day before a storm strikes.
People with strict medical needs — whether evacuating to a shelter or to some place else — should pack 30 days worth of medication and supplies. Evacuees should also pack toiletries, a change of clothes, any Emergency Alert tags, and critical documents, including a marriage document, birth certificate and Social Security, banking and insurance cards.
Special-needs shelters have additional requirements. Those who use motorized wheelchairs or scooters should take walkers and regular wheelchairs to a shelter because there are not enough outlets to charge them, said nurse Andrea Allen, Pinellas County health department's special needs coordinator.