In Case of Emergency

Special needs registry finally a reality after 10 years in the making

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

In times of disaster and emergencies, things can become harried. In the chaos, people with disabilities can be overlooked or don't receive the care they need because emergency responders weren't made aware that they had special needs.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

2-1-1 Texas/CAN Help staff members Dawn Sheffield (left) and Ashlei Vaughn-Gilbert and Sulphur Springs Police Lt. Rex Morgan, coordinator of the city's Emergency Management Division, set up a table Tuesday afternoon for 2-1-1 registration, while Beverly Morrison (back) answers phone calls regarding 2-1-1 at the CAN Help office on Church Street.

For those individuals who rely on medical equipment powered by electricity, or have medications which must be refrigerated, loss of electricity  could mean loss of life. When those same people have no one to check on them, no means of transportation and no phone service, their situation becomes even more perilous. Even situations as simple as a bad storm which knocks out power, which for most of us means a quiet evening in the dark, become nightmares for individuals with disabilities.

That's where the city of Sulphur Springs' emergency operations and the local 2-1-1 Texas voluntary registry for disabled individuals and those with special needs in Sulphur Springs comes in handy.

In the works locally for 10 years, but finally realized this month as a state and national initiative, the special needs registry will make that information available to emergency responders should an emergency situation arise.

2-1-1 Texas-Northeast Texas Region Area Information Center (AIC) is asking anyone who is elderly, disabled or has special needs to call 2-1-1 and let call-takers get their information, which is  turned over to the city's emergency operations center, where it is stored in a locked file where EOC personnel can access it should there be an emergency or disaster.

The 2-1-1 call-takers will ask the caller a few questions, such as their name address and phone number, whether or not the caller has transportation by which they can evacuate in the event of an emergency situation; the name, address, relationship and phone number of someone who can be called in the event of an emergency; whether the callers has a pet or service animal; whether they have special needs; if others at the location will be evacuating or needing emergency assistance; and questions pertaining to the level of needs.

People requiring level 1 care can be those dependent on others for routine care such as eating, walking or going to the toilet, or a child under 18 without adult supervision. Those needing level 2 care are people with disabilities such as blindness, hearing impairments, deafness/blindness or amputations. Level 3 are people needing assistance with medical care administration, who require monitoring by a nurse, are dependent on equipment, need help with medications, or who have mental health disorders. On level 4 are people outside an institutional facility care setting who require extensive medical oversight such as IV chemotherapy, a ventilator, dialysis, life support equipment, hospital bed and total care or is morbidly obese. Level 5 would include people in an institutional setting such as the hospital, long-term care/assisted living facilities or state schools.

By providing this information, the EOC can alert emergency responders of the person's location, immediate needs, or if a truck or other equipment will be needed to move them should it become necessary for them to evacuate from their homes. They can also go and check on these individuals, provide generators or help them get to facilities with power or equipment they need.

Residents may call 211 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday or from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Friday to register, or to obtain more information about the registry. If for any reason callers are unable to reach 2-1-1, they can call the CAN Help office at 903-885-9797 during those hours. Once registered, residents can call any time to report any changes in their information. Official will try to follow up annually to make sure all information is current. All information will be maintain in the EOC, and will not be released to another agency for any other purposes, except to emergency responders during a disaster.

2-1-1 Texas is included in Gov. Rick Perry's Homeland Security strategy as a tool for sharing information and mobilizing resources during local, statewide or national disasters.

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