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911 Call Center Invites Families to “Flag” Addresses

Howard County Autism Society and Police Department join efforts to further increase safety and first-responder effectiveness by flagging addresses in the 911 Call Center database.

By Beth Benevides, MCDD Community Advisory Council member

Howard County families who have loved ones with autism can breathe a little easier knowing that county 911 operators and first responders are already “in the know” when called for an emergency. By giving residents the option to voluntarily “flag” their address in the system, the 911 Call Center has first-hand knowledge that an individual with autism resides at a given address and that he or she may be nonverbal, oversensitive to sirens, unaware of danger, prone to elope, or exhibit other noteworthy behaviors. This information is forwarded to first responders prior to their arrival on the scene.

The program, which was launched last year and includes more than 70 addresses, has already proven to be helpful in an emergency situation. For a teen who wandered away from home, the information in the database provided officers with tips on approaching him and using gestures to bring him to safety.    

“This program has the potential to save lives,” says Beth Benevides, board member of the Howard County Autism Society (HCAS) and a family member on the MCDD Community Advisory Council. “No one ever wants to be in an emergency situation. But the reality is we sometimes are. Anything we can do to better prepare first responders for what they might encounter is worth our effort.”

Police Sergeant William Cheuvront, who has worked alongside HCAS for the past three years overseeing the Rapid Return tracking system (formerly, Project Lifesaver), did not need much convincing when asked whether a 911 flagging program would be useful. He contacted the Howard County Police Department commander of communications on behalf of HCAS and, together, he and the commander outlined what information would be required from families who wish to flag their addresses.

“The 911 flagging program provides specific information to first responders that will enable them to provide better service to members of the community,” explains Sergeant Cheuvront. “The more information a first responder has prior to arriving on scene, the better prepared he or she can be to render whatever aid is needed.”

In the midst of an emergency call, information is dispersed quickly. Families are encouraged to be brief when providing key facts. The idea is to include one or two helpful notations for first responders, for example: person is nonverbal or has limited verbal communication skills; most likely to hide in bedroom when scared; unaware of danger—may elope and run into the street if feeling scared or threatened; highly sensitive to sirens, loud noises, and touch; exhibits aggression; or may not respond to his name.

The form is available at www.howard-autism.org/Resources_Services/911AddressFlags.htm.

Please note: Flagging an address is entirely voluntary. It is up to the family to decide whether privacy is an issue, and whether to volunteer this information.

Additional Efforts with Howard County First Responders

HCAS actively promotes and provides training of first responders in the county. Police officers are required to complete the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission’s “Autism Awareness for Law Enforcement” Distance Learning program. Firefighters and paramedics must complete an online training program produced by HCAS and the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (HCFRS). The training includes facts about autism and the characteristics of autism, tips for helping people with autism in emergency situations, and effective examination methods. The training also addresses some of the difficulties that may be encountered in a rescue situation.

“Courses like this are critical to our development,” said HCFRS Captain Tony Concha. “As first responders, we want to be able to recognize and anticipate the unique aspects of interacting with members of our community. Joint training such as this increases our awareness and our comfort level when providing care during emergency responses.”

For more information about these initiatives, please contact the Howard County Autism Society at 410-290-3466 or Sergeant Cheuvront at 410-313-3738.

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