So if you’re too poor to have a car, you are a criminal?
Next time, evacuees subject to criminal checks: State’s plan calls for putting some offenders on separate bus
By TERRI LANGFORD, Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Texans seeking to escape the next hurricane or state emergency by evacuation bus will first be submitted to criminal background checks, the state’s emergency management director says.
The idea, according to Jack Colley, is to keep sex offenders and others who may be wanted by police off the same buses used by the most vulnerable during an evacuation: the elderly, disabled residents and children.
“This will allow us to help them evacuate,” Colley said of sex offenders and others wanted for crimes. “We’re not going to leave anyone.”
Though the intent is to make sure vulnerable evacuees aren’t victimized, Colley acknowledged that culling sex offenders and other criminals from a herd of evacuees during a potentially chaotic evacuation comes with plenty of challenges.
“We’ll be able to do it,” he said of the task, declining to be more specific about the process because of safety concerns.
He said the agency’s first concern is to move people out of harm’s way.
But Colley insists a better filter on who gets on an evacuation bus with special needs residents will eliminate potential problems.
“We’re here to save lives,” Colley said.
Earlier this month, it was announced AT&T Inc. has contracted with the Texas Governor’s Division of Emergency Management to provide electronic wristbands for those residents wanting them, before they board an evacuation bus.
The wristbands would be scanned by emergency management officials and the person’s name would be added to a bus boarding log. That person’s name and their bus information would be sent wirelessly to the University of Texas Center for Space Research data center.
When the evacuee arrives at a designated shelter, the wristband would be scanned again to help state employees respond to inquiries from the public about the safety and location of evacuated family members.
The decision to wear a wristband is purely voluntary. But anyone who boards an evacuation bus will have to provide a name. There will be no requirement to show an identification card, such as a driver’s license, but officials may ask those boarding for an ID.
Colley confirmed that all of those names will be checked against existing sex offender registries and other criminal background databases. Colley said officials are not interested in evacuees’ past criminal convictions, only if they have outstanding warrants, are sex offenders or parolees.
After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 1,700 parolees failed to check in with authorities in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
“We’re all entitled to privacy, but we’re not entitled to anonymity,” Colley said.
Colley would not discuss how thorough the background checks will be. He said the state’s focus was keeping sex offenders and those with current warrants segregated from vulnerable residents.
“We’ll have procedures and we’re not going to advertise what they are,” he said.
Colley stressed no one will be left behind during an evacuation because they have a criminal history. But those with warrants or with a sex offense conviction will be evacuated separately.
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