Leaders from civic organizations met with leaders from Houston ethnic media companies on Jan. 30 to discuss winter preparedness.
The lyrics to the classic blues song “Stormy Weather” goes, “Life is bad. Gloom and misery everywhere. Stormy weather, stormy weather. And I just can’t get my poor self together. Oh, I’m weary all the time.”
Houston is known for its hot and humid weather.
However, Houston knows about stormy weather too thanks to its location near the Gulf of Mexico.
But any Houstonian who has lived in the “Bayou City” for at least a few years should know how brutal the winter can become too when suddenly they lose power for whatever reason.
Therefore, preparing for winter power outages can become a life and death scenario.
Leading up to a winter storm, people should wrap their pipes, load up on non-perishable foods, buy lots of water, firewood and buy a generator to power up their home during outages.
Those that are more affluent and healthier can often better prepare for potential disaster.
But what about those that are not as affluent?
What about those that are sick and shut in?
When long power outages or damage to a home puts people’s lives in jeopardy, going to a shelter is often the safest place to go.
Unfortunately, some of the city’s most vulnerable people need the comfort that their personal home provides, especially if they receive home healthcare because of debilitating illnesses.
Many need hospital beds, daily medicine and injections.
However, that is not always available at the average shelter.
Logan Perkes of FEMA Region 6 said, “One of the things that, for people with disabilities, to be a good practice would be having a written list of emergency contacts, the medications they take, and any medical information first responders need to know in case anything did happen in an emergency.
“Always request a 90-day supply of medications that way they have extra on hand in case there is severe weather, and they can’t leave home. And then when they are building an emergency kit, they can purchase items over time because some people are living off $900 a month so they can’t spend $100 buying food and supplies all at one time.
“If physical assistance is needed, shutting off water to the house, carrying bottled water, transporting medical equipment, identifying a person ahead of time who may be able to help, so that can be a neighbor, a family member or a friend who may can come over before a storm is coming and help.”
While learning how to care for a sick loved-one should be a priority for family members who might not have access to home healthcare during a winter storm, AARP is looking to prioritize people with disabilities during a disaster so that they could be more comfortable, possibly in a hotel and with access to their home healthcare nurses.
Jason Tudor of AARP said, “”So, we have got to do a better job of educating people where they are and connecting them to the resources available to them. We’ve also got to do a better job of making sure there are resources available for them to go to. Are our shelters prepared to take in caregivers? If they aren’t willing to go to a shelter, are we willing to put up the money to make sure they can go to a hotel because what we have found is that older adults are more willing to evacuate if they know that there is a specific hotel room that they are going to go to. If not, then they are going to stay home, so in Florida, for example, they are putting out the money to make sure that there are plenty of hotel rooms available and they are prioritizing older adults to make sure they have access to them. So, there is plenty of different ways that we can start addressing this, we’re just at the beginning of it.”
He added that during the devastating freeze in Texas in 2021, 60 percent of the fatalities were people over the age of 60 years old.
Obviously, deadly storms and other natural disasters are not limited to the Greater Houston area.
Tudor added, “We saw thousands of Puerto Ricans dying after Hurricane Maria because of lack of access to power and emergency services. Shortly after that, in the following year, we saw in the campfire in California, people dying in their homes, in their wheelchairs burning to death because they couldn’t evacuate. AARP said ‘enough, we have to change the way older adults are included in emergency planning and disaster resilience education and services.’ So, the following year, we partnered with FEMA and said ‘let’s figure out what’s going wrong. What are the gaps in education and what are the gaps in planning that we need to fill so that this doesn’t happen again?”
Another major problem that occurs during natural disasters is language issues.
Houston has a diverse population with many spoken languages.
Unfortunately, important life-saving information is not translated into all the many languages spoken by residents.
Dan Reilly of the National Weather Service Houston/Galveston said, “The City of Houston has some preparedness guides in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and so on, but maybe we can do better than that and work as a group. Maybe we can partner with Harris County and Houston Ethnic Media to come up with materials that can serve your communities. We really do want to engage, and I am hearing your willingness to engage with the group here, so that is why we are here today.
“Another thing I want to mention on the National Weather Service side for communicating, there is a website, weather.gov/translate and that is an effort to take weather service products, and by AI (artificial intelligence) translate them into different languages. Right now, the Houston office is not part of that experiment but that will change soon. We expect to be added to Spanish and Vietnamese. Once that effort is underway, it will be important to quality control that. Two have Vietnamese speakers, for example, that can look at the translated materials and give feedback and say, ‘That’s just not right or that’s not accurate.”
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