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STEAR: State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry

Hurricane season officially begins on June 1, and many Houstonians are already preparing and bracing. All predictions for 2024 indicate an “active” season: 54 percent chance of at least one hurricane landing somewhere along the Texas Gulf Coast, and a 7 percent chance (nearly twice that in a typical year) that a major hurricane will cause major problems for Houston.

Preparing for large-scale emergencies—and especially living through one—is tough enough for “average” citizens. It’s a nightmare for anyone with special medical needs, or a shortage of evacuation options. For Texas Gulf Coast residents in that position, one resource is the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR).

What Is STEAR? The Basics

It’s important to understand that STEAR is not designed to guarantee anyone prompt or individualized service in an emergency. The main purpose, served by gathering data on Texas residents with disabilities, is to help first responders work more effectively. For instance, if evacuation workers can quickly check which neighborhoods have residents needing wheelchair-accessible buses, emergency transportation can be allocated accordingly. (In many communities, STEAR registrants are also contacted individually.)

Anyone with a disability or medical condition is eligible to create a STEAR account if the condition would make it harder to evacuate, shelter in place, or communicate with rescue workers. People without access to private transportation can also register.

The STEAR registry collects each user’s:

  • Name, address, and phone number
  • Primary language
  • Emergency-contact and caregiver information
  • Information on any pets or service animals
  • Transportation assistance needs
  • Specific disabilities/medical conditions and related needs

Registering with STEAR means consenting to have this information available to professional responders in the event of a disaster.

Pros, Cons, and Misconceptions

Again, STEAR is a registry for improving community-wide emergency response, not a service provider for individuals. Many would-be registrants have discovered this to their frustration, after following what they assumed was a signup link to ensure prompt personal attention.

That said, registration can improve chances of faster help in an emergency; and it also does the larger disability community a service, by alerting emergency personnel to the extent and needs of that population. But you’re still responsible for doing all you can yourself.

Other STEAR facts to know:

  • While the State of Texas oversees STEAR data, communities are individually responsible for what they do with that data. If you have specific questions on your community’s response plan, your best resource is your local emergency management office.
  • If more than one person in your household has special needs, STEAR requires a separate registration for each individual. (Professional assisted-living communities can also fill out a “facility form,” separate from residents’ individual accounts.)
  • STEAR accounts expire after 1 year, at which time you will need to re-register.
  • No fees are charged for STEAR registration, and registration is entirely voluntary. No one will ever send you a notice, or knock on your door, if you choose not to be included in the STEAR database.
  • As with other medical-related and personal data, all information you furnish is kept confidential.
  • STEAR is overseen by the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Cybersecurity (for STEAR registrants’ personal information and other sensitive data) is overseen by the Texas A&M University System.

P.S. Another Emergency Resource

If you’re seeking an organization more directly committed to the disability community, Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) is a good resource. While its primary mission is advocating for disabled Texans’ legal rights, it also:

  • Publishes “disaster resilience news and information” articles on its website;
  • Provides the DRTx Emergency Ready Sheet as a personalized emergency-planning resource;
  • Collects information on disaster-related preparations and concerns. Currently (through May 13), DRTx is conducting the 2024 Disaster Resilience Survey of Texans with Disabilities. Which, incidentally, includes the question, “Are you registered in STEAR?”

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