Residents of all ages with special needs, those without transportation and the elderly, require extra attention and preparation in order to stay protected in weather emergencies.
Though Pinellas County government has education programs in place to help these citizens prepare and find safe shelter, the responsibility for storm preparation rests with individuals and their families or caregivers. That planning needs to happen early. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE STORM IS RAGING. Emergency personnel may not be able to respond when high winds make road travel hazardous. Plan for safe shelter now.
Special needs shelters are not open at this time...
Special Needs Shelter Locations:
Assistance at a special needs shelter is limited to basic medical monitoring and back-up electricity for lighting. The shelter will be inside a school and will likely be crowded and noisy. Cots may not be available for everyone. While this is a safer location to ride out a storm, it is not for everyone. Many citizens require more comfortable accommodations as mobility restrictions make it impossible to sleep on the floor or a cot. In these cases, the Host Homes program is an excellent alternative.
Residents with certain medical conditions can get help during an evacuation. Special needs shelters will open for those requiring MINIMAL medical assistance. Preregistration is strongly recommended.
What to Expect from a Special Needs Shelter:
The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County and School Board staff these shelters with nurses and other medical personnel. Oxygen is available, but air conditioning may not be available if power is interrupted.
Before going to a shelter, arrange to bring at least a two-week supply of any medications you need along with any needed portable equipment. If you have special diet requirements, be sure to pack your own special nonperishable snacks. For your own comfort, bring items such as bedding, sheets, pillows and blankets. Cots are available only on a limited basis and are not guaranteed.
Good Advice for all Residents with Special Needs:
Whether you go to a special needs shelter or not, here’s some good advice to keep in mind when preparing for hurricane season:
On Track With Transportation:
For those who need to evacuate, but don’t have their own transportation, a hurricane can cause anxiety. Pinellas County officials want to make sure that everyone can get to safe shelter.
If you sign up for the special needs registry, you will be asked about your transportation plans. If you need a ride to a shelter, your local fire department will be in contact with you to make arrangements when the time comes to evacuate.
If you don’t require special needs transport, PSTA buses will run nearly all their routes until it’s no longer safe to travel. During an evacuation, buses will also run from transfer stations to local shelters. All rides are free during an evacuation. Be prepared in advance by locating your nearest bus stop. Some people may not qualify for special needs transport, cannot ride the bus and have no other means of transportation to evacuate. If you are in that situation, contact your local fire department or the Department of Emergency Management, in advance, for special assistance. Take advantage of the help that is there for you. Don’t stay in a dangerous situation just because you don’t have your own ride. (Call the PSTA InfoLine (727) 540-1900. For current route information during a storm go to www.psta.net/weatheralert.php.
Helping the Elderly:
Older adults, especially those living alone, have unique concerns that should be addressed before a storm nears Pinellas County. Increased stress and anxiety can be a factor leading to more incidents of illness, particularly for those seniors with heart disease or respiratory troubles.
If you are an older adult who doesn’t require special needs assistance, you don’t have to ride out the storm alone. Many senior communities are in non-evacuation zones, so start a Hurricane Club with other people from your neighborhood, social group or place of worship. Meet to discuss preparations such as who might serve as a host home and make a list to divide up supplies to gather before a storm.
It bears repeating that, regardless of age, if you live in a mobile or manufactured home, you must leave when the evacuation order is given. A clubhouse is likely not a safe place to weather a storm. Get together with others in your neighborhood to find host homes.
If you are an older adult living in a nursing home, assisted living facility or boarding home, contact the administrator to learn about emergency preparations. Let your friends and family members know about the facility’s plans and give them important contact information before a hurricane threatens the area.
Some additional items to be considered:
Hearing or speech impairments:
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is this program?
The Pinellas County Special Needs/Evacuation Assistance Program is for individuals who have no other evacuation plan and need government sheltering and/or transportation assistance during an emergency. The program provides transportation to general shelters, special needs shelters or a healthcare facility. It also can provide special needs sheltering for those that meet the criteria and are unable to make any other arrangements for shelter during an emergency.
How do I register?
You can fill out the form on-line and it will go to Emergency Management. The form will then be sent to the appropriate fire department. They will contact you for more information and to confirm that you are entered into the program. Forms are also available from your home healthcare provider or by calling your local fire department, Emergency Management (464-3800) or the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (820-4155). For transportation, your local fire department will contact you prior to any evacuations. You do not need to be registered to go to a special needs shelter if you have your own transportation, but we strongly encourage it. You must be registered if you need transportation to a shelter. Do not wait until there is a threat of an evacuation, you may be too late. Register now!
How do I know if I am eligible?
For transportation, if you have no other way to get to a shelter you can register for transportation assistance. For special needs shelters, if you have no other options for sheltering and you require limited medical assistance such as oxygen, assistance with routine care and medications, or you are dependent on electricity you may qualify for the special needs shelters. Shelters do not have hospital beds, and cannot assist those with acute medical problems. When you fill out a registration form, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County will determine if you are eligible for a special needs shelter and advise you directly or through your local fire department.
Can this program help me at other times?
This program is activated only when we have a declared county emergency, an evacuation is ordered and shelters are opened. However, if you are registered as a special needs person, the local fire department will have that information in the event of a localized situation that may require your notification or evacuation.
What is available at the Special Needs Shelters?
The Department of Health and the Pinellas County School Board staff these shelters with nurses and other medical personnel. Oxygen is available at the special needs shelters. You will be provided normal meals only; you will need to bring any special dietary foods you may require. Hospital beds are not available at the shelters; you must bring comfort items such as bedding, pillows, sheets, and blankets. Air conditioning will be available as long as power is available. While the special needs shelters may have generators for essential electrical devices, none will have air conditioning if power is lost. You must bring any medications you require (at least a seven day supply), as well as special equipment you may need such as your oxygen concentrator, canulas, tubing, etc.
What about my pet?
Service animals may go with you, but other pets need to be cared for by making prior arrangements. If you are registered and eligible to go to a special needs shelter, call Pinellas County Animal Services at (727) 582-2600 to register your pet. Animal Services will make arrangements for your pet to be taken to a host home. If you are going to a pet-friendly shelter you are responsible for your own transportation.
What if I am in a non-evacuation zone?
If you are in a non-evacuation zone and you are not in a manufactured or mobile home, you should stay home unless told otherwise. Stock up on supplies and take steps to make your home safe. Your home will be the most comfortable place during a hurricane. If you are electrically dependent, talk to your home healthcare provider or your physician about what you should do in the event of loss of power to your home. If you are on liquid oxygen you will not need electricity. If you are on gaseous oxygen, talk to your supplier about what to do during an emergency.
What if I register and do not qualify for a special needs shelter?
If you do not qualify for a special needs shelter you will be advised by the Dept. of Health or your local fire department. Depending on your situation, you will be directed to go to a general population shelter or we will work with you to find an appropriate medical facility where you can shelter during an emergency.
Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center
Department of Emergency Management
Citizen Information Center
(during an emergency activation call (727) 464-4333)