The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 26, 2013

Special needs survey in the mail

By Ashley Wislock
The Danville News

SUNBURY — LEWISBURG — The Union County Emergency Management Agency is literally addressing (sending postcards in the U.S. mail) the emergency response issues as they pertain to special needs residents of Union County. All Union County households should be on watch for this important postcard mailing from your County EMA.

Union County Emergency Management’s Local Emergency Planning Committee will be directing the mailing to every household in Union County giving special needs residents the opportunity to identify themselves as requiring extra assistance in the event of an emergency. The postcards will direct Union County residents to a website to complete their information, or give them a phone number to ask that a form be mailed to them.

Michelle P. Sanders, EMA coordinator for Union County, said, “The special needs assessment project will fill a current void in information Emergency Services has available to respond to all citizens in the event of a disaster. Not only will this be an assist for the special needs person, but it will also enable our first responders the best information to ensure a safe response.”

The online questionnaire takes about five minutes to complete and applies to each individual with needs. Example: Parent has special needs and so does a child. Each would be entered separately or have two paper forms completed. It asks for contact information and a brief description of a person’s needs, including hearing, vision, mental impairment, ambulatory problems, oxygen use, and others.

“Most of the survey is just checking boxes,” Sanders said. “Residents can either go online to complete the form or, if they’re more comfortable, they can call the office and have the form mailed to them for later return.”

Sanders described a flooding situation where this sort of information would be invaluable. Municipal coordinators, police, and rescue personnel go door-to-door to alert residents to evacuate. A hearing-impaired person who is sleeping or otherwise distracted, for example, might miss that alert. However, rescue personnel informed of the location and the special circumstances can prepare to take extra steps to alert that person, perhaps by notifying a designated emergency contact person.

Residents with ambulatory or transportation needs could also be a concern during a flood, fire, or other disaster.

“If evacuation is required and there’s nobody to help them, then our knowledge of that lack of a “lifeline” can make the difference in the citizen’s protection and the safety of a first responder,” Sanders said. “The information is critical.”

Because privacy laws prevent EMA from asking medical and social service agencies to identify special needs households, Emergency Management has no other method of identifying this population. The information will be considered confidential by Emergency Services and will only be used by EMA personnel. “This information is for emergency purposes only,” Sanders said.

Sue Reese, Geographic Information System director for Union County, pointed out what this information combined with today’s technology can accomplish in terms of the county’s readiness to respond in the event of a large scale emergency or disaster. “In an event,” she said,” we could input the information into a database and have the ability to sort the information by municipality or required need, and place it on a map for location identifying households requiring a more tailored response.”

For more information, please call the Emergency Management office at (570) 523-3201.