Linda G. Howard

This is my opinion and reaction alone.  It does not reflect the opinions of Special Gathering or any other staff member or volunteer.

Since sarcasm is a staple in the life of my family, here are 11 reasons to NOT evacuate when a life-threatening storm is approaching.  I’ve had plenty of experience to accumulate reasons over the 45 years we’ve lived in a beach community.

I live in Florida on an island about a half mile from the ocean and 1 and 1/2 miles from the inlet waterway.  My family and I have faced repeated evacuations.  When our children were younger, we told them that they could bring one thing with them that they could not live without.  We had a hurricane box with needed supplies and food for a week.  We learned to pack a week of clothing in about five minutes.  We had a big supply of candles and a gas lantern.  We left our home at the first call for evacuation, long before the traffic jams or mandatory evacuation orders were given and house to house searches were performed by the police.

Each year, many others stay on the island.  Therefore, I’ve heard all the excuses for not leaving.  However, I’ve accumulated 11 reasons that I believe motivate people to stay in dangerous places.

  1. I have a death wish for myself and my family.
  2. Because I enjoy watching my home burn down to the ground should there be a gas leak that would cause a fire near my home, I won’t leave.  I know that 40 mile-an-hour winds cause fires to spread.  Yet, I assume that my life is The Great Exception and my home won’t burn down like the house down the street.
  3. Because I am much larger than my 1,500 square-foot house, I must stay to protect it.
  4. The possibility of losing my roof is common; but it certainly will not happen to me or my house.
  5. I am a thrill seeker and risking my life is the biggest thrill of a lifetime.  Riding a roller coaster is a small thrill. Watching trees fall onto my roof and trying to dodge broken glass is much more exciting.
  6. I am an intelligent person; but I am stupid when it comes to common sense involving my life and limbs.
  7. I truly believe that I am the strongest person who ever lived. I am much stronger than any storm a hundred mile wide pounding 90 mile-per-hour winds for 12 to 14 hours.
  8. Should I have to be rescued, I enjoy putting other people’s lives at risk.
  9. While I’m the first person to give lip-service to the heroes in my community,  I do not truly value the lives of our firemen and police officers.  Therefore, I will happily put their lives at risk so that they can rescue me in the middle of the storm.
  10. I can use my beloved pets as an excuse for my fool-hearty actions for facing dangerous, devastating conditions.
  11. The fact that I can take my pets with me and deliver them from danger does not make sense to me.  Even though almost all hotels will waive their restrictions on pets and keeping a pet safely in a car makes more sense than putting their lives in danger, they are such a convenient excuse why not use it and put their lives in danger also?

Of course, there are exceptional circumstances.  During Sandy, the floods were higher than predicted.  Yet, people who lived on these islands did not leave until their homes, clothes, shoes and outerwear were underwater.  They have not coats, food or water.  It is sadder than anyone can imagine.

However, when devastation can be seen approaching, isn’t it common sense to simply pack a bag and leave?

I have a check list:

  • Water
  • First Aid kit
  • canned goods/snacks
  • ice
  • dry ice, if possible
  • gasoline for the generator
  • clothes and personal items for evacuation
  • one item you think you can’t live without
  • family photos
  • bills and financial information
  • candles and matches, flashlights and batteries
  • kerosene for the lanterns

I also include a few things that I wouldn’t allow myself to have in ordinary times, like gooey, yummy treats that will throw my system out of whack for a couple of hours.

However, my greatest concern isn’t what I will do in a hurricane.  It isn’t even how I’ll take care of my physically frail husband because we deal with his disability everyday and we have a plan. 

What about the most vulnerable in our communities?

What about the most vulnerable in our communities?

My concerns is what will happen to the members of The Special Gathering, a ministry within the disability community.  We do chapel services and Bible studies for persons who are developmentally delayed.  They remain a vulnerable population. 

The members who are in group homes or with their families are of minimal concern. Eric will mutter and studder, fume and prance; but in the end his parents will take him to a safe place and he will be calmed.  No.  It is the people who have been placed in apartments in this great inclusive social experiment that give me sleepness nights. 

It is Saul who believes everything that his self-proclaimed, “hair-brained” companion tells him.  Saul believes that taking his companion’s 195 pound Rockwilder dog would be a better pet for him than a cat.  Even though he’s job requires him to be gone all day and he lives in a small one bedroom apartment with no lawn.  Why would he believe this?  Because she told him it would be a good idea; and she can no longer take responsiblity for the dog.    

It is Katy who lives in her own house and does weekly trips to the hospital emergency room with fantom or self-inflicted pain to get attention and more pain-killing drugs.  I feel a responsiblity to the married couple who no longer comes to SpG but whose supported living coach makes emergency trips to visit her children in NC during each hurricane disaster. 

It is during times of tragedy that I wonder into what kind of social-action plan have we thrown the mentally challenged community?  Where are the helps when they seem to be needed most? 

Do you have any answers to these questions?  Is your state prepared for the disasters that hit every community in regard to people who are most vulnerable?

Yesterday, I attended a Persons with Disabilities Assessment Project, Emergency Preparedness Workshop at Cocoa Library. Chip Wilson, Statewide Disability Coordinator for Emergency Services was the main speaker.   While Mr.  Wilson was interesting and even entertaining.  His presentation was pretty rudimentary.  Here are the things I gleaned from Mr. Wilson:

1)  Have a plan.

2)  Implement your plan.

3)  Contact anyone who needs to know your plan.

4)  Both public and private emergency shelters must be wheelchair accessible and open to the general public.

If you have any questions regarding accessible emergency shelters you can contact Chip Wilson at 850-413 9892.  His cell phone number is 850 264 4705. 

These are some of the things I learned from the Brevard County workers that were new to me:

1)  You must register each year for Special Needs Shelter placement. 

2)  To obtain a registration form, you can go to this link, or call Lacie Davis at (321) 637-6670.  

3)  You must register each year for Special Needs Transportation to a General Shelter or a Special Needs Shelter. 

4)  The Special Needs Transportation request is on the Special Needs Shelter request.  Again, here is the link. 

5)  You can get Special Needs Transportation FROM the shelter, ONLY if you had Special Needs Transportation TO the shelter.  Therefore, if your independent living coach or your parent or agency person takes you to the shelter, they must bring you home from the shelter. 

6)  NOTE to supported living coaches:  If you take a person to shelter, they cannot get home on the SCAT bus or with other public transportation.  You must provide them with transportation home from the shelter.

7)  Special Needs Shelters are for medically fragile people.  You will not be accepted into a Special Needs Shelter, unless you are medically fragile.

8)  Cots are not provided in general public shelters.  Bring your own bedding (including a cot, if you need it.) 

9)  It is still an APD requirement that an independent living person be accompanied to any shelter with a companion.  The person who will accompany your consumer should be part of their Emergency Preparation Plan.  Supported-living coaches or support coordinators should insure that this companion cost is included in the Support Plan.

7) If you have any questions regarding this, call 211.  This is an excellent resource hotline.  These volunteers are knowledgeable and they can get you in contact with the person to whom you need to talk.

Interesting sidebar, there was only one support coordinator and two independent living coaches who attending this meeting.   

Through Spinal Cord Resource Network, an organization formed by the George Family, Laura George has become an ardent advocate for hurricane awareness.  If there is an issue, regarding hurricanes that you wish to address you can go to her website and respond.  She will also be speaking on this issue.  You can obtain her speaking schedule at the website address below.

From SpinalCordResourceNetwork:

The latest is (after a call to Chip Wilson, Florida Disability Coordinator,  from a friend of mine…) that he now wants to meet with us -supposedly next week.  If there is any thing at all that you would love me to tell him on your behalf…take advantage!  Please!  Obviously I’m meeting with him regarding sheltering…so you may want to cater it slightly to that. 

The other update..is that we are hearing strongly…that again…the governor will have no time for us this year.  Big surprise. 

However, I will be attending and speaking somewhat at both the Miami and Palm Beach Hurricane Conferences.  We will also be meeting with Hillary Styron, Director at the National Organization of Disabilities/Director of the Emergency Preparedness Initiative.  I am also going to try and coordinate a meeting down there between friend of mine (with an extensive background in psych issues and who currently heads the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation) and a few others.  Perhaps if you are looking for ideas or connections I can get something for you there as well.

All our blessings…

Laura George

I’ve included this letter to Disability Coordinator Chip Wilson from Laura George because I find it inconceivable that Mr. Wilson has not responded in any way to her e-mails, letters or phone calls.  This is a concern.

Dear Disability Coordinator Chip Wilson,

Thank you for reading the letter I wrote on my family’s behalf to meet with the Governor during his conference in May on Hurricane Preparedness Wednesday, May 11 – 16, 2008.  My husband and I understand that the theme for this year is “Maintaining Vigil While Preparing for the Inevitable.”  It is a great idea.  But only if you don’t have a disability. 

Mr. Wilson, we know you are well aware of our work to address this issue.  We also know that you have contact with many people who know of our work.  But are you also aware that this story is not just about “the Georges”?  Are you aware of The Special Gathering whose community is of cognitive disabilities and has trouble getting to safe haven; or SPARC who works with the Autism community and can’t obtain safe haven for their community or the Baptist Church in Palm Beach who decided that they needed to build an addition onto their church to help their special need community; or the former HOA president who died from Wilma because of stress due to lack of medical care & a safe repaired home to live in;  or even the quadriplegic who was sent to three different shelters only to be sent home without safe haven during a hurricane?

Greg and I could have gone and sued Broward County and everyone else involved for refusing us shelter during Ernesto.  But we didn’t.  Not only did we not do that (like others we both know who prefer that line of thinking), but we went a step further to become involved and be a part of the change by talking to and educating others as well as ourselves as to the process, steps, equipment and other issues that are involved in such an undertaking.  We are unusual in that we have accomplished and compiled a knowledge base that we can proudly say no one else can match in all of only two years.

In high school and college, we we were taught American Government and about the due process of law.  Why is it that when we have contacted, written, called, emailed and tried to repeatedly call out for help and attention to this important and concerning issue – we have been met with silence.  This is embarrassing.  We are Floridians.  We are in the “hurricane state.”  We are supposed to keep constant vigil.  Personally we learned that when we moved from Michigan only two months before Andrew hit.  How are we or others with disabilities supposed to prepare when there is no place to go?  When there is “no money for legislation”? When there is no cause for alarm – only a “well we’re not perfect” stated repeatedly over and over again?

To ask for a meeting with the Governor (and yourself hopefully!) should not be considered an inconvenience.  It should be considered good fortune and an honor that three constituents would work so hard using the democratic system to try and gain recognition to a simple idea.  The idea that all life, all disabled Floridians deserve equal access to shelter is not worthless but valuable and a worthwhile cause.

Mr. Wilson, I am hoping that even the silence we have endured from you (no emails, no returned phone call) will end here.  We clearly understand that the Governor felt you were the best person to represent the disability community in the State of Florida.  Please allow us to see what the Governor saw in you, and help us as well as the disability community in Florida who does not have equal access to disaster shelters have the ability to “Maintain Vigil While Preparing for the Inevitable”.

With all due respect,

Laura George

*Note: This letter will be posted to our website: http://www.spinalcordresources.com/hurricanecenter