Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hill County Local Emergency Planning Committee is dealing with a conundrum: how to find out which people would need special help if emergency service providers had to react to a crisis. “What do we do to find out who needs help in an emergency?” Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Ron Knudson asked at a meeting of the LEPC Tuesday. “ If we have to shut down an area of the town we have to be able to run transportation.” Knudson said this morning he has been working on developing a list of people with special needs for about two years. Packets were sent out to different organizations and agencies to be distributed and returned to develop the list, but none were ever returned. He said during the meeting that People seem to want to avoid the label. “Is this label offensive?” Knudson asked, adding that people seem to think, no matter what their situation, they should avoid being called someone with special needs. “It’s the Code of the West. We’ve always done things for ourselves,” he said. Hill County Director of Nursing Riki Handstede, a former director of Northern Montana Hospital’s emergency room, said during the LEPC meeting she used to see people at the ER who had special needs but would avoid being listed as such. “They really don’t want to be labeled,” Handstede said. Knudson said this morning that people may not like the idea, but DES needs to have the list. “We need to identify the people with special needs,” Knudson said. He added that people may be concerned about privacy issues, but the information will be used only by the local DES and law enforcement and emergency service personnel in case of an emergency. “It will be held very close to the chest. It will be only for our response,” Knudson said. County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said Wednesday having the information is crucial. “If there’s a mass evacuation, think about it, how would you locate the people who need transportation?” she asked. Handstede said Wednesday knowing who has a particular need could help the county Health Department provide services if there were an emergency. “It’s for the public,” she said. “If there is an emergency we want to know who is homebound.” Handstede said if the Health Department knew who had special needs, such as needing asthma medication or even basic needs like food or water, its personnel could take those items to people in case of an emergency. Knudson echoed Handstede this morning. If there were a spill of hazardous material, the emergency responders would need to know who would need help being evacuated. The list would also allow calling people who have difficulty getting out to make sure they have water, electricity and so on, he said. At the meeting, members brought up ideas on ways to deal with the issue. Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said part of a solution to the problem might be not using a label. It wouldn’t just be people who are homebound or need special medication who might need help; for example, he said, anyone who doesn’t have a vehicle would need help in an evacuation. LEPC Chair Lori Henderson said one method to start gathering information might be to contact organizations. She suggested Knudson or someone making a presentation to the Senior Connection as a start, informing people of the need to know who would need help during an emergency. Christina Petersen of the Bullhook Community Health Center said there are businesses and organizations in the community who already have information like what the LEPC wants. Groups that provide home health care or businesses providing home oxygen services already have lists, she said. Those groups might be able to get information to the people about the need to know who the emergency services groups should be aware of, she said. Knudson said this morning that he will try to start the process of letting people know what the purpose of the list would be, and hopefully start getting some response. “We have to create more awareness that this is just to assist (responders),” he said. Bessette said much the same Wednesday: the LEPC needs to find some way to let people who would need help in an emergency know that identifying themselves is in their own best interests. “It’s kind of something you can’t force people to do, but maybe they’re not getting the message,” Bessette said. For more information or to be placed on a list as needing special help during an emergency, call the Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services at 265-5481 ext. 283.