Responders armed with higher level of awareness for those with special needs

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DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office launched the special needs awareness registration on their mobile app.

First responders are called to a wide spectrum of unknowns. Sometimes they respond to a home occupied by a resident with special needs or the elderly who require unconventional assistance. The 911 Commission heard from Lela Harvey, representing Voices for Autism, at their regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19. She was addressing the commission for the second time requesting ways for first responders to be aware when they are dealing with special circumstances.

Harvey stated DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office allows residents to register via a special needs awareness link on their mobile app. She cited an incident where emergency personnel responded to the home of an adult, non-verbal autistic person with aggressive tendencies. Responders knew to turn off their lights and sirens, which were stressors. “They knew the situation and were prepared,” Harvey said. “I’m pushing it so hard because I know it works. It saves lives.”

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NATCOM Director Willis Carter agrees that information such as this is beneficial, but believes if we are to meet our citizens expectations that an audit process must be in place to ensure that only accurate information remains in these data files. A scheduled audit process should occur at minimum every six months and outdated or inaccurate information should be purged from the data bases.

In instances of renters, or those who move regularly, the moves would have to be noted and updated. Capt. Phillip Daniels, 911 Administrator in DeSoto Parish, said their app was designed so users could submit their special needs information. “It is automatic on the user’s side, but on the backside there is stuff we have to do,” he said.

The information is put in as it is received, reviewed and vetted. “You have to have someone monitoring the app or emails,” Daniels said. “I see it as very useful.”

Their system utilizes a flagging process whereby when a call is received and address identified, notes pop up for the dispatcher to relay to first responders. These notes, or flags, can identify special needs from autism to wheelchair or bedbound individuals, those deaf, blind or otherwise impaired. Flags can also alert to gate codes needed for access to property, specific medical needs and more. Daniels said he had been in contact with Carter and others from the 911 system in Natchitoches Parish prior to, and immediately following their meeting Tuesday.

In other business, Carter said the Emergency Warning System located on private property in Campti will be moved by Cleco. He said the surveying and verification process is complete and the relocation would be done as soon as the property is dry enough for Cleco to get equipment on site without causing property damage.

The commission also signed an agreement with Direct TV to provide television service at the center. TVs are used to constantly provide updates on weather and road issues.

The commission has received 16 applications for Carter’s position, including three local applications. The position was advertised in newspapers, trade publications and online job search sites like Indeed. Deadline to apply is March 1. Carter will exit his position July 1.

Officers were re-elected; Chairman John Wynn, Vice-Chairman Larry Atteridge and Secretary Mary Jones, for their second consecutive terms.