Rick Bailey has a daughter with Down Syndrome. If a flood, or some other type of disaster, were to happen tomorrow, and he and his wife were unable to get home, there would be no institutionalized framework in place for responders to know about or check on his daughter.
“I would definitely like someone to go check on her and make sure that she’s safe,” Bailey said.
But in a few weeks, that will change. Grand County will begin implementing a system that will help to ensure that officials know about special-needs individuals, including Bailey’s daughter, and that in an emergency they can receive the assistance they may need.
On Tuesday, July 1 the Grand County Council voted unanimously to approve the creation of a Special Needs Registry, which will be available to both local and state officials. Bailey, who is also Grand County’s emergency management director, believes that the list will fill a gap in the county’s ability respond to disasters.
“Friends will take care of friends, family will take care of family, neighbors will take care of neighbors, but there will still be those who fall through the cracks,” Bailey said at the County Council meeting. “This lets family and friends register people that they feel are special needs, so we know where they are and what they need.”
County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said he agrees that the registry could be a valuable resource.
“If there were some level of big emergency in the area, and someone was confined at home for some reason, this registry would allow emergency medicals responders to know they might need to go get them,” he said.
The idea for the registry came from Lance Peterson, Weber County’s director of emergency management, who started working on the problem in 2005.
After witnessing the failures of emergency responders during Hurricane Katrina to evacuate some nursing homes that had been abandoned, and to help other members of the special-needs community, Peterson decided that a registry would be a good way to make sure that would not happen in Weber County.
“I had been doing some wild-land fire evacuation planning for a community up here in Weber County and thinking about people who might be shut in and need help to evacuate and how do we identify them,” Peterson said. “So I ended up sending boy scouts door to door trying to find out where people are that have mobility problems.”
The idea was a big hit, and in 2006 Utah decided to take the program statewide. To do this, Utah’s Division of Emergency Management partnered with the Utah Citizen Corps, United Way and 211, Bailey said.
The registry is completely voluntary. To sign up, citizens can either go to www.specialneedsutah.org to fill out a short form, or call 211 and sign up over the phone.
“I practiced registering (my daughter online) and it took about three to four minutes to do,” Bailey said. “It’s really just one page where they ask for the person’s information, contacts, alternate contacts – in this case, I put my wife and I on there – and ask who submitted it. It can be a caregiver, a physician, a neighbor, or if they belong to an organization that is concerned, (the organization) can do that,” Bailey said.
The person filling out the form would check boxes to indicate which of the conditions apply, such as ‘requires life-sustaining medication’, ‘service animal’, ‘interpreter required’, ‘speech impediment,’ and others.
Both Bailey and Peterson believe that the Special Needs Registry will also be a benefit for the elderly. Roy Barraclough, an administrator at Canyonlands Care Center, an assisted-living facility, agrees. He believes that the registry could help the elderly who are independent enough to live at home, but may require assistance in case of a disaster.
“I think on the face of it, it would be a potentially positive program to have in place,” he said.
Bailey believes that the list could be used for a whole range of events, from a fire, to a flood, to a blizzard, to a gas explosion or shut-off.
In the event of a blizzard in which power goes down for a several hours, for example, county-certified volunteers would call the affected people on the list to ascertain who needed help. If there were people they could not get in touch with, they would send a volunteer out to check on them.
“It may be as much as moving them to a shelter or just checking on them to make sure they weren’t affected,” Bailey said.
The list could also help if someone were cut off from home and on life-sustaining medication. It would allow for officials to have the name and number of that person’s physician, which could cut down response time.
One challenge in getting residents to sign up for the list that Bailey foresees is people’s privacy concerns.
“I anticipate there will be a few people very reluctant of giving the government information,” he said. “(But) this is totally voluntary and they have to make the effort to do it. We really don’t want to force anyone to give that info if they don’t want to.”
In addition to being totally voluntary, the information is required to be kept confidential and secure by the Government Records Access and Management Act. There are also only two to three people in each county who are have access to the back end of the website, Peterson said.
Both Bailey and Peterson feel that the pros of the list far outweigh the possible cons.
“I think whenever you are able to reach out and have plans and procedures in place to assist those who can’t totally help themselves, that’s huge,” Peterson said. “That’s something wise, and prudent, and efficient, and effective that the government should be doing.”
Database would assist local residents at risk during emergencies
“I think whenever you are able to reach out and have plans and procedures in place to assist those who can’t totally help themselves, that’s huge.”
For more information, visit www.specialneedsutah.org or call 211.