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UT’s Lex Frieden Launches Web Site Offering Hurricane Planning for People with Disabilities


HOUSTON—(June 2008)—University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston professor Lex Frieden today announced the launch of a Web site to help people with disabilities prepare for the 2008 hurricane season in the event they have to leave their homes or shelter in place. The Internet address is The hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Lex Frieden confers with Carlos Moreno, M.D., at a health clinic established at the George R. Brown Convention Center to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005.

Lex Frieden confers with Carlos Moreno, M.D., at a health clinic established at the George R. Brown Convention Center to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005.

The Web site includes hurricane planning tips for people with disabilities, their family members and caregivers, as well as information for emergency planning and response officials. It is supported by The University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston, Memorial Hermann|TIRR and Baylor College of Medicine.

Frieden is a long-time advocate of disability rights and was one of the architects of the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has been likened to a Bill of Rights for the 54 million people with disabilities in the United States. He uses a wheelchair following a car accident in college.

No one has to tell Frieden how important storm preparations are for people with disabilities. When Tropical Storm Allison flooded the Bayou City in 2001, he found himself in waist deep water in his home. Luckily, the water got no higher.

Frieden said many Houstonians with disabilities may require assistance in the event of a disaster. Nineteen thousand people with mobility impairments are registered with METROLift through the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Approximately 26,000 people in Harris County use home health services paid for by Medicaid on a daily basis, and an additional 14,000 people live in nursing homes or similar residential facilities.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2002 about 18 percent of Americans said they had a disability, and 12 percent had a severe disability.

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita walloped the Gulf Coast in 2005, many people with disabilities were chased from their coastal homes by gale force winds and surging tides. Some were separated from their service animals, others from their needed medications, and still others from their wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Frieden leads the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program at Memorial Hermann|TIRR, which fielded more than 3,000 telephone calls and e-mails for help from people with disabilities in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas who were displaced by the hurricanes. The ILRU supports community groups that serve people with disabilities.

Frieden also assisted Hurricane Katrina evacuees at a shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The UT Health Science Center at Houston, in partnership with the City of Houston and Mayor Bill White, operated a health clinic in that venue.

When it comes to hurricane planning, Frieden said there are two main issues – preparation and response.

“Preparation is the key to surviving a hurricane or any other type of disaster,” he said. “You need to be prepared to evacuate if you live in a surge zone. You need to know where you are going and when you need to leave. You need to be packed well before a disaster is imminent and ready to leave when directed by responsible authorities.”

Many people with disabilities were not prepared for the 2005 hurricanes. “Among the biggest problems with the evacuees fleeing Katrina and Rita were the loss of medical records, prescriptions, life-sustaining health supplies and even eyeglasses,” he said.

“People with disabilities and others should be prepared to follow the directions of emergency officials as to whether or not there is a need to evacuate,” Frieden said. “Public authorities have improved plans and methods for instructing evacuations since Katrina and Rita.”

“People with disabilities should have at least a seven-day supply of food, water, medical supplies, and battery-power backups if necessary,” Frieden said. “They should also make plans to have caregiver alternatives, if needed. Such preparation is important because people may be instructed to shelter in place.”

If a person with a disability gets trapped by rising water or other calamity, it is important to have a cell phone or landline handy to summon assistance, Frieden said. “It is also a good idea to let family or friends know your plans in case of emergency, so they can check on you,” he adds.

Frieden encourages people with disabilities who may need assistance during a disaster to register with the 2-1-1 information service ahead of time. Operators on the 2-1-1 line will help them complete a registration form to determine their particular needs. Emergency responders can access this information in the event of an evacuation.

Frieden is professor of health informatics at the UT School of Health Information Sciences at Houston, where he directs the school’s Laboratory for Adaptive Technologies. He also is a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and an adjunct professor at Baylor College of Medicine.


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