Special treatment

Emergency preparedness: Registry will tip off responders about special-needs folks
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

FARMINGTON - Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina spurred Utah's effort to launch a special-needs registry.

Its goal: to help save the lives of future disaster victims.

"This registry started out as something to be developed for the northern region, but was quickly identified as something that would benefit the whole state," said Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn, formerly with the United Way and current chairman of the Northern Region Citizen Corps Council.

This database will tip off emergency personnel about people who are sight- or hearing-impaired, who lack mobility, require oxygen or ventilators, or who suffer from dementia or other mental or cognitive conditions.

An individual's physician's name and phone number can be included as well.

According to the National Organization on Disability, the devastation of Katrina left disabled individuals especially vulnerable, threatening their lives long after the floodwaters peaked.

The city of New Orleans had been home to 484,000 people, of which almost one-fourth fell into that category.

Now - by dialing 2-1-1 on a phone or using a computer to log on to specialneedsutah.org - Utahns can register, or have a friend or relative enter information on their behalf. Facilities - assisted-living centers, group homes or nursing homes - can register as well, detailing the number of folks they have, for example, on oxygen or in wheelchairs.

"It doesn't guarantee they'll be first served or evacuated, but it will help first responders know where they're at," said Millburn, adding that knowing who uses a wheelchair or Seeing Eye dog can aid the planning process.

Jenifer Johnson, administrator for Apple Tree Assisted Living in Kaysville, said Katrina moved caretakers to take a whole new look at emergency-evacuation procedures.

"The special-needs registry may be something we'll take advantage of," said Johnson, who is a caregiver as well.

Weber State University students Trevor Price and Tom Neiswanger developed the database framework as part of their senior project.

The tool grew out of a collaborative effort on the part of several agencies: Utah Division of Homeland Security, 2-1-1 Information and Referral Center, United Way of Northern Utah, Utah Citizen Corps, Utah Department of Health, American Red Cross of Northern Utah and the Northern Utah Homeland Security Coalition.

In December, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. urged Utahns to make the registry part of their personal preparedness plans.

Last month, Davis County commissioners endorsed the program.

"We'd be crazy not to embrace this opportunity to be more prepared," said Commissioner Louenda Downs.