PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Ahead of the official start of Atlantic Hurricane season in Florida, the Pinellas County Health Department is preparing their staff and shelters to be able to care for people with Special Needs.
The health department is taking inventory Tuesday of what they have available in their storage facilities and reviewing policies with their staff, the department tells ABC Action News.
County health departments staff shelters for residents who are oxygen-dependent or who have other minimal health needs, per Florida statute.
These emergency shelters were implemented just last year for Hurricane Irma, when the county declared a state of emergency and announced mandatory evacuations for low-lying and coastal communities.
Seven schools in Pinellas County were converted into shelter locations during Irma, three of those seven were specially-equipped for people with special needs.
Dunedin Middle School - 70 Patricia Ave., Dunedin
Oak Grove Middle School - 1370 S. Belcher Rd., Clearwater
John Hopkins Middle School - 701 16th St. S., St. Petersburg
What to Expect from a Special Needs Shelter:
Those shelters were equipped with special medical monitoring, and back-up electricity for lighting. 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. Special needs shelters do not have hospital beds and cannot assist those with acute medical problems.
"If you have your own transportation to a Special Needs shelter, preregistration is not required, but it is strongly recommended," says the Health Department.
"If you are registered and need transportation to a shelter, your local fire department will contact you before an evacuation. You may bring your caregiver and/or family with you to a Special Needs shelter. Please note, you are not obligated to go to a Special Needs shelter once registered, if you have made other safe and secure arrangements."
In fact, the county suggests finding alternative shelter if available to you.
"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," says the Health Department.
Most importantly, "do not wait until the storm is raging," to decide what your plans are, says the Health Department. "Emergency personnel may not be able to respond when high winds make road travel hazardous. Plan for safe shelter now."