by Krystal Smith, American Red Cross Regional Digital Communications Specialist
While it is unlikely a hurricane will reach north Texas, did you know Dallas is a hurricane evacuation center for those fleeing these storms?
This past weekend the Texas Division of Emergency Management hosted a hurricane evacuation training at Lake Highlands North Recreation Center using the new Evacuee Tracking Network (ETN). More than 80 volunteers participated in the disaster response training including the American Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and many other organizations that assist hurricane evacuees.
The training was intended to test the accuracy and efficiency of the new ETN system which was designed by the State of Texas to track disaster evacuees from their homes, to the shelter and back to their homes again. Personal information such as full name, address, gender, date of birth and last known location is stored on a wristband with a bar code provided by Emergency Management personnel. This wristband provides critical information to shelter provider to help serve evacuees.
Once imminent danger to a specific region in Texas has been determine and an evacuation has been mandated, many residents load onto buses to be transported to a shelter in DFW. With the new ETN system, these evacuee will be checked in on a computer system prior to loading on the bus. Through this system, the state will be able to track which residents are being transported to each specific shelter and identify any unique needs an evacuee requires upon arrival.
During the check-in process evacuee’s will be asked to provide a drivers license, any medications they may need, accessibility requirements, and any assets the individual may have with them including pets, wheelchairs or other medical equipment. If the victim does not have their drivers license, the workers may find other ways to verify their identity. Evacuee’s will be provided with a bracelet for themselves and their assets.
Evacuee’s will then travel to one of Dallas’s shelters to in-process. Upon arrival each individual’s wristband and asset will be scanned. If the evacuee had previously mentioned they needed medications, medical equipment, and other special accommodations, these needs will display on the scanner for the shelter workers to see.
The advanced knowledge of these needs, enables the shelter workers to more efficiently provide the care the evacuee requires by having the time to arrange for the needs prior to the evacuee’s arrival at the shelter. At the shelter, staff and volunteers provide residents a safe place to rest, food, water, and information and resources to meet each individual’s unique needs.
Additionally, the ETN system, allows a member of the family to be labeled “Head of Household” so the family can enter the system together. This helps family members who may have been separated from each other locate loved ones and helps shelter managers try to keep family members together. Once the storm has passed and residents are free to return home, the evacuee’s are scanned back onto the bus with their assets and brought back to their hometown.
Running hurricane evacuation drills is essential to ensuring an efficient process for evacuees who are already under enormous stress. As a test for the new ETN system, the training drill proved successful; identify key areas for improvement while providing confidence in the efficiency and accuracy of the new tracking program. While we hope no hurricane reaches the Texas shores, if they do, this training helped ensure north Texas is ready.
For a comprehensive explanation of the hurricane evacuee process, watch this video from the Texas Department of Emergency Management.