Byron Smith is sitting in his living room on Bloomington’s east side reading a Braille magazine. It is clear the retired radio producer is independent even though he has been blind since he was 6 years old, but Smith is concerned about what would happen if he were caught in an emergency situation and had to call for help.
“I’m a totally blind person so a first responder coming to our home should know that lights or hand signals aren’t going to do much good in trying to help me or protect me in a bad situation,” Smith says.
He is taking advantage of a new county program where he can put his name on a registry so emergency responders will know he has a special need.
Smith is on the city’s Council for Community Accessibility and helped put the system in place after hearing about a situation where the registry could have helped.
“In an emergency situation, they went to a gentleman’s home, a man who used a ventilator, and the electric power was off so his ventilator was not working, they did not know about his situation and he died,” he says.
How The Dispatch System Works
The registry has taken at least a decade to develop because so many departments have been involved. One of them is the Monroe County Central Emergency Dispatch Center. Manager Jeff Schemmer says it is meant for large scale emergencies.
“The idea for it was so that we had a database for if we had a big event occur, let’s say a tornado came through or we had to do some kind of evacuation we actually had a database for addresses of individuals that have special needs as far as helping to evacuate,” he says.
When someone dials 911, the dispatcher will see a pop up window display the special need of the resident. That information will be given to the crew that responds to the call.
“The fire department gets what’s called a rip and run, which is basically a paper that comes out of their computer that has all that information on it,” Schemmer says.
Identifying Registry Candidates
But to make it work, people with special needs have to populate it. The system went live last September. Despite thousands of people in the county who could be using it, only about 100 are registered.
The county is working to target people who may benefit from the registry. One of the concerns they’re working to address is security.
Bloomington’s Director of Human Rights Commission Barbara McKinney says residents should not have second thoughts about adding their name to the registry. She says all the information residents enter is confidential.
“I don’t think it could lead to identity theft or really bad consequences because of the type of information it is. Most of it people would know, if you know this guy, you know he’s in a wheel-chair,” McKinney says.
McKinney updates the registry every six months to make sure it is accurate and people’s medical conditions are the same. The registry may also be used for temporary disabilities such as a patient recovering in a wheel-chair from a broken bone.
Officials say even though the system is not being used to its fullest potential, it gives people like Smith peace of mind.
“I know that if we have a fire or similar emergency here that we have to have help from first responders that they will be aware of my situation and especially if I’m here alone that they will know how to help me,” Smith says.
The system is the only one in the state of Indiana listed under emergency preparedness resources on the federal disabilities website.