Hurricane Ike aftermath

Galveston Independent School District officer Willie Alcocer, left, helps Belle Kenney to one of the buses evacuating residents from Galveston to a shelter in San Antonio in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

People who usually require assistance to evacuate or shelter during a hurricane need to be aware of some changes to the normal procedures.

While residents pile into their cars for the slow journey inward, many people who need help getting out of town utilize a free state-run program called State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry, or STEAR.

Aged people, those with disabilities and people who require medical or transportation assistance can load onto buses that will transport them to Austin during an evacuation.

The state is working with local jurisdictions to ensure the STEAR program can accommodate social distancing and other COVID-19-related measures, Texas Department of Emergency Management spokesman Seth Christensen said.

“Available STEAR services during a disaster will vary by community,” Christensen said.

The cities will need to accommodate extra seats on the buses that transport people to allow for social distancing, Galveston’s Chief of Emergency Management Mark Morgan said.

People will be screened upon entering the buses and will be spaced farther apart to prevent spread of the virus, Morgan said.

Cities likely will have to request more buses than they did in other years.

It’s likely, for example, that the city of Galveston will need to request 25 to 28 buses, when normally it would need only 15, he said.

Once in Austin, people might notice the emergency shelters will be a little larger than normal, to allow people more space to spread out and separate, Morgan said.

“They’ve got some school buildings and some large auditoriums and some hotels,” Morgan said.

Other governmental leaders and the Red Cross said plans were being made to perhaps avoid using those types of facilities at all, and rely instead on hotels and motels.

At any rate, people also will be screened upon entrance to those emergency shelters, Morgan said.

For everyone who evacuates, the biggest change they’ll notice is that everyone will need to take masks with them, Morgan said.

People who are sheltering on their own will want to talk about spreading out among different friends and relatives’ homes, rather than many people going to one person’s house, Morgan said.

Even better would be going to a hotel, where a family can easily shelter isolated from others, he said.

The city will ensure people using the STEAR program have masks, too, Morgan said.

“If you’re going to be on a bus, you’re going to need to wear a mask,” Morgan said.

It will be important for people to ensure they have that supply ahead of time, if possible, Morgan said.

“Make sure that you have a supply of masks, having enough masks for a week or so before you come back,” Morgan said. 

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