A new database provides medical information to emergency responders before they arrive at the scene.

Courtesy of Fishers Indiana Fire Department

Alerting 911 Before an Emergency

A new — and somewhat controversial — special needs registry aims to keep first responders and citizens safer in one Indiana community.

An alert database in Fishers, Ind., provides police officers, firefighters and EMTs personal information, like whether there’s an elderly citizen who’s homebound or a child with autism who is upset by the sound of sirens, in advance of reporting to an emergency.

“As much information as we can gather prior to arrival, the better prepared we are for what situations may occur,” says Fishers Fire Department Captain John Mehling.

Through the Special Needs Data System, citizens voluntarily can provide first responders with specific information about disabilities or a medical situation, such as blindness or mobility issues. Dispatchers send details to the computers in emergency vehicles while they’re en route.

Mehling says that all personal information is protected: Only the responding personnel have access. And the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ensures data privacy and security for safeguarding medical information.

So far, a few hundred citizens have enrolled in the registry.

Still, some have mixed feelings about the database since it labels residents with certain conditions.

One downside could arise when a family moves and doesn’t update the information in the system to alert responders about the change, which would cause officials to prepare for a scenario that no longer exists at a certain location, says Denise Saxman, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter.

I can truly see the benefit to the families who are very worried about their loved ones, and I can see the benefit to the first responders,” says Saxman. “At least they seem to be coming at this from a, ‘Let’s make the best use of our time in an emergency situation with people who may be at more risk.’”

The idea developed out of a roundtable discussion held earlier this year in which the participants sought ways to make their community more accessible and inclusive and was implemented in March. A resident can choose to remove the information from the system at any time.

Other communities, including Bloomington, Ind., and the state of Illinois, have also implemented a similar database.

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