When Hurricane Andrew reached the state of Florida in 1992, it left a trail of destruction in its wake that was the costliest in our state’s history. It also highlighted many glaring weaknesses in the state’s disaster-response infrastructure – particularly when it comes to providing for individuals with special needs. Since that event, the state has undertaken a massive effort to correct those weaknesses. Now, however, recent reporting indicates that Florida still has much to do to ensure that safety of vulnerable residents during disasters like Andrew. One particular area of deficiency appears to be an ongoing lack of needed shelter beds for residents who need electricity for things like oxygen and nebulizers.
Andrew’s Eye-Opening Impact and the Response
Hurricane Andrew remains the most damaging storm to ever hit the state of Florida. When it struck more than two decades ago, many residents with special needs found themselves without access to basic services like electricity that were required for medical devices. In the aftermath of that disaster, the state committed to being better prepared for future emergencies, with a special emphasis placed on securing needed infrastructure to care for those who are deemed to be among the most vulnerable during such events.
Florida’s planning efforts have resulted in new requirements designed to meet those needs for residents who suffer from both physical and mental disabilities. As part of that effort, each county in the state is required to maintain a registry that contains information about all disabled individuals in the area. That includes residents who are on dialysis, dependent on oxygen, suffering from mobility impairments, or who have no transportation available during an emergency. It also includes seniors who are considered to be in poor health or otherwise frail.
To provide for these residents, counties are charged with maintaining and staffing shelters that are manned by medical personnel, and stocked with needed oxygen, dialysis equipment, and medication. Each shelter must also have generators to provide the electricity that many special needs and at-risk individuals require to maintain operation of critical medical devices.
Naturally, those shelters must also have space enough to accommodate those in need. According to recent reports, this is the area in which there is apparently much work remaining. While there are enough standard shelter beds in place in most counties, there is a reported lack of shelter beds for residents with the aforementioned special needs – and that could leave many of the most vulnerable victims of a natural disaster without access to the help they need.
How Bad is the Deficit?
The deficit of special needs beds is quite severe in many counties. In fact, there are currently two dozen counties in Florida that have fewer shelter beds for special needs individuals than the state requires. Duval County alone is reported to be roughly 1,900 beds short of what it needs. Clay County is believed to be short of every type of shelter beds – by some 3,800 beds. And by some estimates, this problem extends even beyond the current estimates. Some officials believe that every single county in the state has a shelter shortage of some kind.
To make matters worse, the state registry has seen registry signups in excess of 17,000 people. Given the shortages and the slow progress in remedying shortfalls, no one believes that those shelters are anywhere close to being prepared to handle another major emergency like Andrew.
What You Can Do
Experts within the state like Clay County emergency management director John Ward urge residents to have another plan in place. Rather than come to shelters, he suggests that Floridians have a plan to relocate miles away – perhaps staying with friends or family members until the crisis passes. On the surface, that seems like eminently reasonable advice, especially in light of the obvious shortage of critical emergency infrastructure.
Despite that sound advice, the fact remains that many Florida residents simply don’t have the means to relocate themselves when they suspect that a hurricane or other disaster is about to strike their cities. For many, that makes a shelter the best of many difficult choices. If you might need a shelter bed to ensure that you have the electricity or other critical medical help you need during an emergency, it is vital that you sign up for the state’s registry.
That registry is used by officials to set target goals for shelter beds and other critical services that residents need during an emergency situation. Without the demographic information that registries provide, officials will struggle to set the right shelter bed, equipment, and medication goals needed to meet demand during a disaster. The state’s strategy is largely built around the statistics generated by those details.
If, on the other hand, you’re assuming that you can ride out any storm until power is restored, think again. The state’s disaster response teams lack the ability to restore power based on special needs and electricity dependence. That means that if power goes out in your neighborhood during a storm, there is no guarantee that your electricity will be restored simply because you need it to maintain your oxygen machine or other medical devices. So, even if you think that you might be able to survive on your own, be sure to sign up so that you can try to obtain shelter help if that need arises.
We Can Help with Other Special Needs
At Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law, our elder law and estate planning experts can help provide for your loved ones with special needs. While the state attempts to provide emergency services to people with mental and physical disabilities, our attorneys can help you provide for those individuals more long-term needs. We offer a full range of estate planning tools to help you protect and grow assets, and we can create planning strategies that use things like special needs trusts to ensure that your disabled loved ones have the resources they need when you’re no longer around to take care of them. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you ensure the well-being of your loved one with special needs planning, contact us online or call us at (772) 398-0720.