By Claire Byun
With hurricane season just around the corner, local emergency groups are stressing preparedness in the event of a disaster. Are you ready?
The Mid-City Neighborhood Association hosted a hurricane preparedness forum at their monthly meeting Monday. Three emergency agencies underscored how essential planning for a storm is – especially in a city like New Orleans – and what residents can do to protect themselves, their families and businesses.
Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, with the Foundation for Louisiana, said residents need to think about hurricane preparedness all year round, and not just late Spring.
“The people who are most vulnerable after a disaster are the people who are most vulnerable before a disaster,” Gulliver-Garcia said.
Gulliver-Garcia urged residents to have emergency kits stocked and ready to go; those kits should include water, batteries, non-perishable food items, duct tape and sanitation supplies. All residents should also keep an emergency kit in their car with water, a phone charger, a small blanket or sweater and possibly some spare gasoline. Complete checklists can be found at the foundation’s website or through the American Red Cross.
Residents should also have a shelter plan in place in case they cannot be evacuated, Gulliver-Garcia said. Homes should have enough resources to hold a family for 48 to 72 hours.
“This is something we’re pretty used to here in New Orleans,” she said.
Having cash on-hand is also useful, since debit card readers usually go down when the electricity goes out. Gulliver-Garcia recommends withdrawing cash early, since ATMs run out of money quickly during an emergency.
“Even credit cards may not be taken in an emergency, because nobody knows how to do the little swipe thing anymore,” she said.
It’s been several years since the city evacuated due to a storm, but knowing the closest evacuation spot is key, said Dev Jani of NOLA Ready. There are 17 evacuation spots strategically located throughout the city – including one in front of Warren Easton Charter High School – though those spots were chosen after Katrina and before the current population shifts.
Jani said since New Orleans’ population has grown and shifted over the years, the city is revisiting where the put the Evacuspots so they can serve the most amount of people.
“We’re looking at good data, good science, to determine now where to put them,” Jani said.
After a city-mandated evacuation, residents are allowed to re-enter in four different waves. The first three waves must have security clearance from the Office of Homeland Security and include emergency relief groups, volunteer organizations and some larger businesses that can support themselves, Jani said. The fourth wave is open to residents, services and other business owners.
NOLA Ready also helps those who cannot evacuate themselves, such as people with special needs or the elderly. Any person, over the age of 65, who has a chronic condition, disability, special healthcare need or trouble walking can register for assisted evacuation.
Typically people will register if they:
-Use life support systems such as oxygen, respirator, ventilator, dialysis, pacemaker, or are insulin dependent
-Have trouble walking, moving around or have a prosthesis
-Are blind, deaf, hard of hearing or have trouble seeing
-Have speech, developmental or mental health disabilities
-Use service animals
“If you know somebody that needs to be on the special needs registry, call them,” said Patrick Armstrong, MCNO board member. “That’s a neighborhood, that’s a community working together to help someone.”
To sign up for evacuation assistance, or to sign someone else up, visit NOLA Ready’s website.
For those who can evacuate on their own but still want to help neighbors, the Evacuteer program is always seeking volunteers. Evacuteer, a non-profit that annually recruits, trains and manages local volunteers to provide assistance to those not able to self-evacuate in the event of a storm. Volunteers staff the 17 Evacuspots around the city, the Union Passenger Terminal in the CBD and the 311 Call Center in City Hall.
Kali Roy, of Evacuteers, said the program always needs volunteers.
“We’re moving over a thousand people per hour when this is going on, so we need the manpower,” Roy said.
Volunteers usually work as registers for evacuees, filling out information and making sure luggage is tagged correctly. There’s also spots for communicators who make sure enough buses are on hand and explain what people can do with their pets and belongings, Roy said.
Evacuteer, in partnership with NOLA Ready, is hosting a city-assisted evacuation exercise next week so all emergency preparedness groups can make sure their plans are viable. Volunteers can pretend to be evacuees and walk through the whole process with officials, while also earning a free lunch.
The drill is Wednesday, May 17 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Morial Convention Center. Register as a group or individual at www.nola-fullscale.com.
“We haven’t done this in a long time, so we need to make sure we’re doing this correctly,” Roy said.