Sensory database created for 911 emergencies

HOWARD, Wis. (WBAY) -- We’re used to emergency response vehicles touting flashing lights and loud, noisy sirens. But at a public safety open house Monday, not a flashing siren was in sight.

“There's not going to be any lights, there's not going to be any sirens, anything like that that may cause sensory issues for the children,” says Deputy Joshua Sanford, Direct Enforcement Officer, Village of Howard.

Deputy Sanford spearheaded the first event of its kind in Northeast Wisconsin, inviting kids with sensory issues to an open house that allows them inside emergency response vehicles.

“The opportunity to come and look at the vehicles and ask any questions that they have, because a lot of times families are nervous about coming to these events,” Deputy Sanford tells Action 2 News.

Deputy Sanford got the idea for the open house from his 6-year-old son Braxton, who has autism.

Braxton got nervous when Action 2 News crews started recording him with video cameras – but Deputy Sanford says that’s exactly the reason to hold the event.

“It gives them the chance to come out and ask the questions in a hopefully more sensory-friendly area,” he says.

Meanwhile, Katie Hendrickson, whose 5-year-old son Nathan also has autism, is working to smooth out emergency situations.

“My concern is if my son was home and something happened to me and an ambulance had to come, and my husband wasn't home, what would happen to him,” Hendrickson, the lead telecommunicator at Brown County Public Safety, says, "because he could run out to the road and he might not understand what officers or fire is trying to tell him.”

That’s why she came up with the “Special Needs Form,” to create a database of people in Brown County who may have sensory sensitivity.

“It tells us up in dispatch, information about people who live at a certain address: Their names and what their special needs are, and how to communicate with them,” she says.

After filling out the form, emergency responders and dispatch operators will be able to communicate much easier with people who have sensory issues.

Hendrickson says the database is for all ages and types of disabilities. The form can be filled out on a voluntary basis and emailed, filled out online, or mailed to Brown County Public Safety.

CLICK HERE to find the form online (PDF format)

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