Allegheny County to allow residents to register special needs with emergency responders

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the launch Tuesday of a “special needs registry,” a tool that first responders said should be helpful in responding to emergency situations involving county residents who have disabilities and might need additional assistance.

“Any information we can get would be greatly appreciated and make our job much easier,” said Anthony Weinmann, president of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics Local 1.

The idea behind the registry, which is voluntary and intended only for those who live independently and not in a group facility, such as a nursing home, is simple.

There are more than 159,000 people in Allegheny County with some type of physical, mental or intellectual disability, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

A person with a disability, or someone who is able to act on his or her behalf, can go online to and fill out a form that provides information including the person’s name, address, phone numbers and what special assistance the person may need in case of an emergency.

Information provided to the registry will then appear on an emergency dispatcher’s screen if an emergency call is made from the home, said Chief Alvin Henderson, director of emergency services. That information can then be shared with fire, police, emergency medical officials and other first responders.

“This is to enhance our response efforts with our first responders throughout Allegheny County,” he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald, who announced the new program from the county’s Emergency Operations Center, described the creation of the registry as the latest step in the county’s long-standing commitment to inclusion of and advocacy for people with special needs.

Judy Barricella, the ADA coordinator for the county, called the creation of the registry an important step.

“For the peace of mind of the individual with that disability, it’s important that the first responders have this information,” she said.

Luciana Randall, executive director for ABOARD’s Autism Connection of Pennsylvania, who joined county officials for the announcement, called the registry a “crucial tool” for families with a child or adult who has autism.

Indeed, when it comes to responding to emergency situations, “more information is always better,” said Mr. Weinmann, the paramedics union president.

Some communities, such as Mt. Lebanon, already have a system in place where residents can notify emergency officials that their household contains, for example, a child with autism or an older adult who uses an oxygen tank.

“Basically, it gets us the information a little more quickly,” said Aaron Lauth, deputy chief of police for the Mt. Lebanon Police Department.

With the newly launched special needs registry, information will be collected across the county, and kept in a centralized place. It’s a system that Gary Hamilton, fire chief for the North Fayette Township Volunteer Fire Department, said could prove “invaluable” to his firefighters, so long as it is kept updated.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. First Published February 25, 2014 3:26 PM

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