OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- After Oklahoma's tornadoes this month, it seemed everyone needed help. But some people - particularly seniors and people with disabilities - need more help than others.
Local church groups, volunteer agencies like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) team are working together to locate those people with special needs and make sure they get the help they need.
"Disasters can create special hardships for seniors and people with disabilities," said Robert Hendrix, FEMA's federal coordinating officer for the Oklahoma disaster. "They may not have registered for disaster assistance. They may be unsure how to register, or they may need help with the process of getting assistance."
Working with local agencies, FEMA's Special Needs team identifies people who need extra help and connects them with the appropriate agencies and services. This week, for instance, more than a hundred seniors are moving back into their tornado-stricken residence and special needs staff are at the scene helping to see their needs are met.
One of the first tasks for the Special Needs team is to make sure that victims have registered to start the assistance process, by calling the toll-free number, 800-462-9029 (TTY 800-462-7585), which operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
"When they call, applicants should mention any special needs they have relating to age or disability. That's the best way to get more help quickly," Hendrix said. Once the vital first step of registration is done, team members can help by answering applicants' questions about assistance programs and referring people to the volunteer organization or local agency that can work on specific problems like temporary housing, medical needs, or scheduling home inspections.
People who are already registered with FEMA who need extra help with the many recovery tasks are urged to call the FEMA toll-free Helpline, at 800-525-0321 (TTY 800-660-8005), which is also open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.