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Lycoming County Department of Public Safety Conducting Access and Functional Needs Survey to Aid In Emergency Responses

When responding to an emergency, timely, accurate, and important information can be critical to first responders. That is the thinking behind an Access and Functional Needs Survey that the Lycoming County Department of Public Safety has developed.

The information gathered in the Access and Functional Needs survey is being compiled in a registry, providing critical contact information to emergency response entities, such as the Lycoming County Department of Public Safety. This information will give first responders and county emergency management staff the necessary methods and numbers to properly and effectively contact residents in a crisis. This information will only be used in the event of an emergency or disaster that requires the public to be notified of important information. Participation is voluntary.

The information provided will be used exclusively for emergency planning and response purposes. It will be securely stored in Lycoming County’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and linked to an assigned ID number to maintain your privacy. At the discretion of the Lycoming County Department of Public Safety, this data may be shared with municipal and county emergency services as necessary.

“While we endeavor to utilize this information to enhance resident safety in emergencies, the Department cannot guarantee its use in every situation or its effectiveness in providing emergency assistance,” Jon Mackey, Planning Specialist, Lycoming County Emergency Management Agency, Department of Public Safety, told Webb Weekly.

The Department of Public Safety contacted Roads to Freedom/Center for Independent Living to aid in the preparation of the survey.

Karen Starr, Advocacy Coordinator for RTFCIL said, “The purpose of the survey is twofold. The survey will give first responders access to information about the person before being on scene. This information can be used to best serve the person during an emergency.

“For example, if medics are responding to a call for a possible heart attack, knowing how the person communicates would be beneficial. Does the person use American Sign Language (ASL), read lips, or use a communication device, etc.? Upon arrival, the responders now know they will need to use an alternative method to communicate with this person. If first responders are wearing a face mask, this would create a barrier to effective communication. The information gathered from the survey would provide beneficial communication needs prior to emergency personnel arriving.”

She continued, “Another example is that medics are called to the home of a person that experiences Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). The flashing lights and loud sounds of the sirens may be something that triggers this individual. Knowing this in advance would allow responders to turn off the lights and sirens as they approached the location.

“The value of the survey extends beyond an individual emergency. In the event of a large-scale disaster that impacted multiple residences, this information would be critical for a successful evacuation. If shelters were being employed for the evacuation, emergency management planners would be better prepared to ensure the shelter was equipped to support the needs of people who are at risk. Having adequate access to electricity to power durable medical equipment such as a ventilator or telehealth communication devices is critical.”

She added, “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Penn College and Lycoming County EMA as we continue to promote inclusive, accessible communities.”

In a fortuitous development, RTFCIL was able to find an intern from Penn College, Kayla Webb, to help develop the survey questions and format. RTFCIL officials had been working with a Penn College professor, David Bjorkman, on another project. He is involved in teaching in the college’s Emergency Management training program and gave them Webb’s name.

Webb said she spent more than 100 hours researching other counties’ surveys, creating Lycoming County’s survey, and revising it until they reached a version that all parties and stakeholders agreed on.

Webb was asked how she arrived at the survey questions. “In emergency management, we use a Whole-Community Approach in which we turn to different communities to learn more about their needs. With that in mind, and with RTFCIL being my internship host, we decided to create the survey based on the intake form they use when providing services to individuals,” said Webb.

She was asked what it meant to her to be involved in preparing the survey. “That is hard to put in words, but it really boils down to something simple. I had the opportunity to create something that would benefit not only individuals with disabilities or other functional and/or access needs but also every resident in the county. The need to help people runs deep in every emergency management individual, including me.”

She stated her expectations about the survey. “My expectations for the survey are high because surveys like this are found commonly across not only our state but across the nation. I hope that, in the end, the survey does what it sets out to do: to be a place where Lycoming County residents can provide information about themselves that they want first responders and emergency planners to know. Once again, this is the Whole Community Approach at work at the crux of it all. First Responders and planners can make assumptions based on generic information, but the only expert on you is you,” concluded Webb.

All those involved with the survey, including Lycoming County Public Safety officials, hope that the public fully participates and fills out the survey. It will benefit everyone.

If you are interested in participating in the survey, you can find it here: