Security measures in place as Austin students share school with evacuees

Manuel Ranjel, an evacuee from Victoria, is in Austin. (KXAN Photo)
Manuel Ranjel, an evacuee from Victoria, is in Austin. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of Harvey evacuees are calling an east Austin high school home for the time being, while two more AISD campuses are on standby.

In response to concerns over students going to class while their school is being used as a shelter, evacuees and volunteers said Tuesday parents don’t need to worry about their children sharing the space.

“I’m just trying to soak in everything that’s going on,” Manuel Ranjel, an evacuee from Victoria, said. “It’s happening too fast.”

His travel trailer overwhelmed by the weather in his hometown, Ranjel, who’s confined to wheelchair and recently went through surgery, found himself in a temporary shelter close to home at first.

“Next thing you know,” he said, “I’m on a bus, and the bus shipped us here to Austin.”

Specifically, it shipped Ranjel and around 200 other evacuees to LBJ High School, which is currently housing bus-loads of people from the Victoria area. Reagan and Lanier high schools are next if necessary.

“They go way out of their way to help,” Suzanne Frankson, also from Victoria, said outside the school.

But the help comes with concerns; students are in class, after all, while more than 170 evacuees are in their gym. Those being given shelter and the people providing it said they could see why some might be worried, but added the concerns are unfounded.

“Everything’s completely blocked off, so kids have no interaction with the clients,” Robert Robertson, a Red Cross volunteer from Colorado said.

Austin’s Emergency Operations Center spokeswoman Melissa Alvarado said authorities emphasized to students they should not interfere with shelter operations. There are opportunities for the two groups to interact — when students walking to class run into evacuees smoking outside, for instance — but the visitors said there haven’t been any problems.

“We pass them by, we wave at them, we smile at them, they smile back,” William Foster, an evacuee from Placedo, said.

The evacuees also said identifying bracelets that tie them to a specific shelter and a constant police presence keep everyone safe. Alvarado said Austin police are working with AISD police to patrol the school.

She also said AISD is using its Safety Check Visitors Management System to screen the evacuees. The system checks all of them against a database for registered sex offenders and restraining orders. If one of the evacuees doesn’t pass, he or she is flagged and placed in an appropriate shelter, Alvarado said.

The visitors are thankful for the hospitality, and for the small amount of peace it provides in the midst of so much turbulence.

“It was a lot of people that lost their homes,” Britney Brockwell of Victoria said, while her friend, Frankson, teared up next to her. “And not being able to contact anybody,” Frankson said.

Ranjel, too, appreciates the shelter; but wonders how he’ll get the medical treatment he needs, including regular dialysis. He knows his stay here is temporary.

“I pray to God that I have something to go home to,” he said. “And that’s about all I can do now.”

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