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Texans urged to call 2-1-1 now if they'll need help in hurricane evacuation


Hurricane Ike taught many lessons, but one that stands out is that you can't plan too early for the evacuation of Texans with special medical needs or who lack transportation.

"Even though emergency planners handled these matters relatively well last year, this can be an enormous logistical nightmare, especially if we don't know who is in need," said Dr. Ed Smith, director of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

For this reason, he said, AgriLife Extension agents in counties up and down the Texas coast are making a special effort to raise awareness of how Texans can help, simply by calling 2-1-1.

"We're encouraging people to make that call now, before that first hurricane heads into the Gulf this summer," said Janie Harris, an AgriLife Extension specialist who has helped lead the agency's disaster planning.

People who should call 2-1-1 to register for transportation assistance, she said, include those who have a disability or health need requiring an ambulance or other special vehicle, and those who can't drive, don't have access to a vehicle and can't arrange transportation.

Information to be provided, Harris explained, includes:

--Name, address and phone number.

--Emergency contact name and relationship (son, friend, aunt, etc.), plus phone number.

--Specific medical and transportation needs; whether pets are coming too.

People who are relatives of those needing transportation assistance can also call 2-1-1 to provide this information, Harris said.

"The registration information goes into a state database, maintained by the University of Texas Center for Space Research, which allows local emergency management officials to receive it immediately," said Deborah Ballard of Austin, the state's program liaison for the 2-1-1 Texas Information and Referral Network.

"It is important for people to call before a storm appears in the Gulf so that local emergency management planners can have an accurate picture of the number of citizens who may need help evacuating their communities."

During the hurricane season last year, local officials were able to activate transportation plans that got thousands of citizens to safety, Ballard said.

"Many local emergency management personnel along the Gulf Coast made heroic efforts to ensure the safety of the citizens of their communities," she said. "Many other emergency management folks inland were equally heroic as they established shelters and other facilities to accommodate evacuees."

Emergency responses can vary with the local resources available, she noted, but each county has a plan.

"If an evacuation is called for your community and you have registered, but no one has contacted you, call 2-1-1 for instructions."

Information specialists are available 24 hours a day to assist with emergency planning and all other human services questions, she said. Information is available in more than 90 languages.

The statewide 2-1-1 Texas Information Referral Network is a program of the Health Human Services Commission.

Hurricane preparedness efforts for Texans with disabilities and special health care needs are being led by the Governor's Division of Emergency Management.

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