Friday, June 1, 2018

People without Cars Left Out, Will they be left behind when a hurricane comes?

he 2018 Hurricane Evacuation Guide released by the State of South Carolina omits any reference to the tens of thousands of people without access to an automobile in its evacuation plans.T

The guide has an entire page devoted to pet. It lacks even a paragraph on where to go to get reliable evacuation assistance if you don’t have a car. A five-paragraph section entitled “Residents with Functional Needs” talks about preserving records, but it is silent about what a wheelchair bound elderly person without a driver’s license should do as the storm bears down on them beyond calling the certain to be overwhelmed emergency assistance agencies.

The 2018 guide is online in PDF

The guide does indicate a disabled person without a driver’s license should “Know yourself.” Is the sort of advice a French existentialist philosopher might appreciate, but it’s no substitute for both a driver and person needing evacuation tboth knowing where the bus stop is and having a bus show up there when expected. These issues were raised by Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit eight months ago in a written report to CARTA and County Government.

Warnings and Recommendations from Irma Last Year.

Last October Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit warned CARTA, Charleston County Government, The Town of Mount Pleasant and the company operating a pathetically incompetent hurricane evacuation bus system that the system wasn’t prepared for a major storm. We held a demonstration march through the rainy streets of Charleston to the Battery the day before Hurricane Irma covered high battery with water.

After the storm, we met a homeless woman in Charleston and recorded a video on her struggle to connect with a hurricane evacuation bus.

At their September 2017 meeting Ron Mitcham, Executive Director of CARTA and the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments adopted our recommendations for fixing problems with the hurricane evacuation system which had been cut and pasted from our report into another document he was given. We don’t believe he knew whose recommendations they were.  He read them, almost verbatim to the entire CARTA board at their regular meeting.

At that CARTA board meeting Vic Rawl, Chairman of Charleston County Council indicated a devastating challenge was looming in hundreds of medically dependent elderly and disabled people who needed hundreds of pounds of medical equipment and supplies to survive. Much of this equipment required uninterrupted electrical power and a level of technical support temporary hurricane shelters couldn’t provide. Existing hospitals and nursing homes located inland on high ground were either unable or unwilling to accept these people during an emergency. In an emergency, their home health care nurses wouldn’t be able to service them. Re purposed school buses driven by drivers who can’t always find the stops can’t evacuate these people. Many of these people have outlived their children or have family which lives thousands of miles away.

Image left- Hurricane evacuation bus West of the Ashely, 300 feet from the stop, driver had no idea where the stop was. No sign on the bus indicating that it is an evacuation bus. 

Evidently the State’s solution to the difficult problem of evacuating our elderly, poor and homeless is to simply leave them out of the plan. Our modest recommendations where simply deemed  too much trouble to implement. Moving and replacing a few signs, training drivers and collocating evacuation stops on existing major public bus stops like the Mary Street Transit Center and Superstop were simply too much trouble. The staggering death tolls in Puerto Rico and in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans betray a rising callous disregard for the vulnerable in our communities. 

Dealing with the evacuation of hundreds, perhaps thousands of medically fragile disabled and elderly people was far beyond what our simple transit focused plan covered, but there is no evidence state government has prepared to deal with that problem beyond the admission to “know yourself.”

What we know is that South Carolina had a serious warning last year and we prepared a plan which would deal with some of the growing problem. The tens of thousands of guides printed leave us with less than the inadequate information we had last year.  Perhaps this information is in the smart phone app referenced in the materials, but nothing it the guide seems to day so.

Perhaps we missed it. Our executive director, William Hamilton, is too nearsighted to drive and he checked the guide. Fortunately, his wife Julia can drive so their blue Prius will be headed inland when the storm comes. We feel sick knowing thousands of transits enabled citizens that we’re advocates for may not be so lucky. We've promised them that their votes for the November 2016 referendum would bring them better transit, but this guide makes it clear that their lives have little value to the people we elect to lead us.

The excuses and explanations will arrive after this press release, but they shouldn’t have been necessary. People shouldn’t be left to die because they don’t have a car and driver’s license. The politicians who approved nursing homes and retirement communities on low ground in harm’s way, must take responsibility here. These guides need to go to the landfill and one providing useful information to everyone needing to escape an oncoming storm need to be prepared.

For more information see
Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit
Phone (843) 870-5299

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