Impact Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities

Facility Information, Vacancy, and Evacuation System for Long-Term Care Facilities in Texas


Bo Platt is a Disaster Coordinator with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Austin, Texas

When Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Louisiana in August 2005, it left hundreds of thousands of Louisianans homeless. Many of those displaced by the storm ended up in Texas shelters, in what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called “the largest relocation in American history.” Many others, some of whom were medically fragile, ended up in hospitals and nursing homes.

Less than a month later, Hurricane Rita came ashore on the Texas-Louisiana coast. This time, hundreds of thousands of Texans evacuated, but with shelters and health care facilities already filled with displaced people from Louisiana, available space was at a premium. While state emergency responders, local jurisdictions, and response organizations like the Red Cross worked together to develop shelter space for the general public, employees of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) worked day and night to locate appropriate shelter for evacuees in need of long-term care.

DADS’ employees called thousands of long-term care facilities daily to determine their status. Staff called facilities near the coast to ensure that they had viable evacuation plans, and inland facilities were polled to find vacant space that was appropriate for use by evacuating facilities. While this procedure worked at an acceptable level, it was extremely labor-intensive, and, because of time constraints, facilities were contacted only once daily, except in unusual situations.

Once the worst of the crisis was past, DADS staff reviewed their response efforts to see how the job might be done better in the future. One area in which the need for improvement was glaring was communication with, and collection of information from, long-term care facilities.

As part of the effort to streamline agency-facility communication, DADS developed a Web-based “Facility Inventory, Verification, and Evacuation Status (FIVES)” application. FIVES is designed to help long-term care facilities help each other during large-scale disaster events that require facilities to evacuate their residents.

Using FIVES, providers can record their vacancies as well as information related to their evacuation status. Users can generate online, real-time FIVES reports showing Texas vacancies by provider type, county, city, and other variables. With this information, providers that need to evacuate their facilities can easily identify other facilities that have the capacity to accept evacuees.

  • Update its vacancy data.
  • Identify potential partners that are able to accept evacuees.
  • Make arrangements with those partners to transfer residents.
  • Update their evacuation status when the facility is evacuated.

DADS expects long-term care facilities to become familiar with the FIVES system before the next hurricane or emergency occurs, and to practice using it by entering their current number of vacancies. Although DADS has not yet used FIVES during an evacuation event, DADS incorporated FIVES into a functional hurricane exercise in June 2007, and more than 600 facilities accessed the site and entered their facility data.