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Special Needs Emergency Preparedness Planning

If you are a person with a disability, do you know what you'll do or where you'll go if you have to evacuate your home due to a natural or man-made disaster? If you decide that you probably could not evacuate your home without help, here are some suggestion about where to get that help.

Who Are the "People With Special Needs"?
People with special needs are those who will need help in evacuating their home during an emergency due to a disability or require transportation to a shelter.

What Kind of Emergencies Require Evacuation?
St. Lucie County Emergency Management informs you when a situation is life threatening and when you must leave your home to be safe. Examples are hurricanes, chemical spills or other accidents where life threatening conditions threaten the area where you live.

When Are Evacuation Orders Given?
Emergency warnings and evacuation orders are given well in advance of a life threatening emergency situation when possible. For example, an evacuation order would be given at a time that would permit clearance of high risk areas prior to the arrival of dangerous winds associated with a hurricane.

Who Decides What Areas Need Evacuation?
Depending on the type of life threatening emergency, decision for evacuation orders can be made by Local Law Enforcement, County Fire District or County Public Safety/Division of Emergency Management. The threat of a hurricane would be an example where Public Safety would issue evacuation orders for residents living on the barrier islands, living in manufactured or mobile homes and residents living in the expected storm surge areas.

Where Should People with Special Needs Go In Response to an Evacuation Order?
People who are disabled, like other residents in a community, have several choices of where to go when an evacuation order is given. These include:

  • Leaving the area
  • Staying with a friend in a safe location
  • Going to a public shelter or a medical shelter

Each of these choices require prior planning. If you decide to leave the region or stay with a friend, be sure you are on your way before traffic on the highway becomes congested.

What is a Public Shelter?
Public shelters are operated by the RED CROSS and are opened during emergency situations when people must evacuate their homes in order to be safe. You should be aware of shelter locations in your neighborhood, but never report to a shelter unless its opening has been announced by the Red Cross through the local media. Schools are typically used as public shelters. If you have your own transportation, you do not need to register to use a public shelter. If you require transportation, you must register with St. Lucie County Public Safety, 462-8100.

What is a Medical Needs Shelter?
Medical Needs Shelters are operated by the St. Lucie County Department of Health with volunteers from other County Agencies. The intent of Medical Needs Shelters is to provide, to the extent practicable under emergency conditions, an environment in which the current level of health of evacuees with medical needs can be sustained. To ensure that you meet eligibility requirements, you must request an application through the St. Lucie County Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management, 462-8100, to be eligible.

What Must I Take to a Shelter?
Public and Medical Needs Shelters will provide you with just that, shelter. You must bring with you whatever you will need to be minimally comfortable for the time you will be at the shelter. This includes:

  • Cot (or folding lounge or air mattress), pillow, blanket, linens.
  • Three (3) day supply of food for individual taste and/or special diets, water.
  • Medications, medical supplies, vital medical equipment i.e. oxygen concentrators, portable oxygen bottles.
  • Personal items: important papers (insurance policies), glasses, personal hygiene articles, change of clothing, sweater or jacket, flashlight, quiet games i.e. cards, book, knitting.

NOTE:  Pets are not allowed in shelters.

How Do I Arrange For Assistance to a Shelter?
You must register with St. Lucie County Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management, if you are a person who requires transportation to a shelter or are a person having medical needs meeting criteria for use of a medical shelter. To register, call 462-8100 and request an application.

What Special Assistance Might a Person Need to Evacuate?
If you are a person with a disability and particularly if you live alone, you may need assistance with the following activities in order to evacuate your home during an emergency.

  • Physical assistance in leaving the house and transferring to a vehicle.
  • Transportation from your home to a shelter, if you are unable to arrange your own transportation.

How Do I Know If I Am Eligible to Go to a Medical Needs Shelter?
Eligibility for a Medical Shelter is defined as follows:

  1. Persons dependent upon a health professional to administer injectable medications.
  2. Persons requiring daily or more frequent dressing changes because of moderate to copious drainage from ulcers, fistulas, etc.
  3. Persons needing assistance with ostomy management, continuous peritoneal dialysis and indwelling catheters of any kind, with the exception of a foley catheter.
  4. Persons whose activities of daily living are so restricted by immobility that their basic medical needs must be met by others.
  5. Persons who require daily assessment of unstable medical condition by professional nursing personnel, i.e., diabetes, cardiac.
  6. Terminally ill patients who are in need of professional assistance for administering heavy doses of medication.
  7. Any resident whose life depends upon electrically energized equipment within his/her residence (i.e. suction machines, home dialysis machines).
  8. Those who depend on oxygen therapy.
  9. Those who are bedridden and require custodial care upon advise of a personal physician.

If you are on a life support system requiring electricity, or require medical supervision, you should register with the St. Lucie County Division of Emergency Management for special needs assistance, NOW, before a disaster occurs.

Support Organizations for the Special Needs Population of St. Lucie County:
St. Lucie County Department of Health
St. Lucie County Emergency Management
St. Lucie County School District
St. Lucie County Fire District
St. Lucie Medical Center of Port St. Lucie
Lawnwood Regional Medical Center
Hospice of the Treasure Coast
County Sheriff, Ft. Pierce Police and Port St. Lucie Police
City of Port St. Lucie
Council on Aging Community Transit

This information courtesy of St. Lucie County Division of Emergency Management, 15305 West Midway Road, Fort Pierce, FL 34945
(772) 462-8100 and the St. Lucie County
Board of County Commissioners.