But officials say that a new service could help them be better prepared in the event that the community’s most vulnerable residents need their help.
The Grand County Council voted unanimously on July 1 to join Utah’s Special Needs Registry, which allows residents to voluntarily share their information with emergency response agencies.
Grand County Emergency Management Director Rick Bailey sees the registry as a tool that will empower residents with special needs, including people with developmental disabilities, age-related infirmities and visual or hearing impairments.
“It’s a good chance for people to help themselves by taking the time to sign up and helping us get pre-planned,” he said July 22.
The registry is not quite ready for local residents to use: Bailey is still waiting for the Utah Division of Emergency Management to sign and return its agreement with Grand County.
He hopes to launch a public outreach campaign some time in mid-August, and at that point, Grand County residents will be able to sign up online at: www.specialneedsutah.org. They can also call 2-1-1 and ask to register, or they can drop by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office to pick up registration forms in person.
“There [will be] three pretty easy ways to register,” Bailey said.
Until 2006, there were no coordinated state resources that could guide emergency responders in their efforts to help people with special needs.
According to Bailey, the registry originated in Weber County, as officials there banded together with five other northern Utah counties and the United Way of Northern Utah to form a regional special needs index.
Weber County Emergency Management/Homeland Security Director Lance Peterson said they came up with the idea in 2004, after a massive winter storm knocked out power to 100,000 residents in northern Utah.
As utility crews worked to restore service across the region, emergency dispatchers began to hear from numerous people who reported that they were running low on their medical oxygen supplies.
“You don’t think about it until something like that happens,” Peterson said.
At the time, however, dispatchers could not immediately reach any oxygen suppliers on a Saturday right after Christmas, so they called Peterson instead.
“The first question I asked them was, ‘don’t you have the emergency phone numbers for these oxygen suppliers?’” Peterson said.
They didn’t, and as a result, Peterson spent much of the next week reaching out to those companies for their emergency contact information.
The northern Utah registry began to take shape not long afterward.
Emergency responders have since used the registry to evacuate people following a gas leak, and to check in on residents ahead of a forecasted blizzard.
In other situations, Peterson said that emergency responders could use the registry to reach out to people with head injuries or cognitive disabilities, instead of showing up unannounced on their doorsteps.
Registration is easy; information remains confidential
At the very longest, Bailey estimates that it will take three to four minutes to fill out the simple one-page registration form.
The form asks residents for their basic contact information, along with the names and phone numbers of their physicians or their primary caregivers. People who sign up can mark a checklist of their individual needs, while letting emergency responders know ahead of time whether they have service animals or any known allergies.
“It just gives us the advantages of knowing what we’ve got beforehand,” Bailey said.
If people are unable to sign up on their own, family members and physicians are encouraged to register on their behalf.
It will be especially important, Bailey said, to hear from residents with special needs who don’t have any family members in the community.
“We would be able to prioritize them and make sure that somebody goes and visits them,” he said.
Bailey also hopes that people from Castle Valley and Thompson Springs will sign up.
“It would be nice to know if we’ve got some special needs issues out there that we need to address,” he said.
He anticipates that some people may believe the registry is an intrusion into their privacy.
“The only fear I have is that some people may feel that we’re trying to interfere in their lives,” he said.
But he assures those people that the registry is voluntary, and says that any information they share will remain confidential.
In Weber County, only a few officials can access the registry, and all of them have signed non-disclosure agreements, according to Peterson.
“There are only three people in my county organization who have access to that information, so it’s very private,” he said.
People who choose to sign up can expect to receive follow-up confirmation calls from 2-1-1 operators, and those operators will phone registrants once a year to make sure that their contact information is still up to date.
For more information, go to: www.specialneedsutah.org, or call Rick Bailey at: 435-259-1310.