Hurricane Season is here and Hurricane Dorian could slam into parts of Florida and/or Georgia within the next few days. The time is now to decide whether or not to ride out the hurricane, seek shelter elsewhere, or flee the hurricane zone.
Florida in particular is a particularly bad state for registered persons. Many Florida counties will deny you shelter relief except at prisons/ jails, which are particularly vulnerable to flooding during hurricanes. During Hurricane Irma, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd created controversy for denying shelters to registrants, offering to lock them inside his jail instead, while the sheriff of a neighboring county allowed registrants to stay in a segregated shelter. Your duty to register extends to temporary shelters, as most states have only a 72 hour window for staying at any one location before you’re considered ‘establishing a residence.” In addition, the Red Cross has a policy of segregating registered persons from non-registrants so many of their shelters will not allow you to stay.
Hopefully, (unlike roughly three out of five Americans according to FEMA) those of you in the potential path of Hurricane Dorian heeded many past warnings to prepare for natural disasters. If you have not, you’ll find that last-minute preparations are incredibly difficult. Already, store shelves are emptying and Interstate highways are clogged with those fleeing the storm.
For those of us not in the path of the storm, Dorian serves as a reminder to review disaster relief plans. Disasters can come on the grand scale like a hurricane or earthquake, or it can be a personal disaster like a house/ apartment fire. How ready are you to endure a disaster? Below are a few tips to help prepare for potential disasters.
Tip #1—Review Your Evacuation Plan: Unlike non-registered persons, those of us on the registry have to include understanding of registration duties even during a disaster. For example, if you are traveling to Florida to Alabama as part of your disaster plan, you will likely have to register in both states as well as abide Alabama’s 2000 foot residency restriction laws. Contact your local registry office to ask about shelter rules and possible shelter leads. The Red Cross may not let you in shelters but may still provide assistance in other ways, such as financial assistance. Do you have distant relatives or friends who will offer you shelter? Look over your disaster kit and replace outdated items and double-check potential shelter arrangements regularly. Keep in mind that finding shelter as a registrant may be difficult during natural disasters, so preparation today will save you panic tomorrow.
Tip #2—Making a Disaster Kit: Do you have enough non-perishable food items, water, batteries, and other essentials in case of a long-term power outage? Have you backed up computer files, made an emergency contact list, and stored your important documents in weather-resistant storage? Do you have a medical kit, sufficient medications, and some cash on hand? Store all these things in an area where they can be grabbed on the go. Keep portable chargers for cell phones. If you have more than one person in your household, you might want to invest in walkie-talkies in case cell towers go down.
Tip #3—Practice your plan: For certain types of disasters like fires and tornadoes, you should occasionally practice your escape plan. Make a “meeting place” for family members..
FEMA’s page on disaster preparedness has links to numerous helpful resources; you can visit the page at https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan
Remember, you are responsible not just for personal safety during a disaster; the government will demands you register even in the face of personal disaster. I was displaced in a house fire in February; I received financial assistance, but not direct shelter, from the Red Cross. I called the registration office, and they gave me five days to check in so I could focus on salvaging what few valuables I did have. I also had a disaster plan. My files were backed up, and I had a place to stay in case of emergency. Most importantly, I had the support of fellow activists who helped me through this crisis.
Disasters can happen at any time, anywhere, and to anyone. You don’t have to be paranoid, just be adequately prepared.