The city of Scottsdale is aiming to educate and inform local residents, law enforcement and fire departments about homes where there is a person with special needs present.
This allows first responders to be more prepared when going into unknown situations and it allows neighbors to be aware of the needs of others around them.
The First Responder Smart Card Program has been used in Scottsdale since 2006. It’s a trademark program that was developed at the Tri-City Partnership in Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley. Households with individuals who have special needs can register for the program. Currently one-third of the homes registered have residents with mental illness, one-third have Alzheimer’s and one-third have autism.
Registered households receive a magnet detailing who in the house has the disability and exactly what it is. They also get a sticker to place on their door and a window decal to alert emergency personnel to look for the Smart Card on the refrigerator inside the home. The Smart Card is a 4×6 photo magnet.
Natalie Summit is the First Responder Smart Card Coordinator for the city of Scottsdale. She says the response from officers has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The officers like the card because the ‘alert’ gives them a heads-up that they are responding to a home where a person with special needs lives,” Ms. Summit said. “The citizens like it because they feel more assured they will get either an officer with a heads-up or a crisis intervention team-trained officer.”
Ms. Summit says all enrolled participants in the Smart Card Program, which currently has 130 homes registered, have to attend a one-hour education presentation on typical police responses. She says the goal is not only to inform first responders, but to educate everyone involved as well.
Martine Desulme, a nursing student at Arizona State University, said she thinks the Smart Card Program is necessary for households with members who have disabilities because it’s difficult to explain everything about a situation when calling 911. She adds it gets difficult when you have to describe situations in addition to explaining specific illnesses.
“I understand there could definitely be problems when 911 is called and they don’t know a situation and the person who is calling might not be able to articulate the needs of everyone in their house during the phone call,” Ms. Desulme said.
Ms. Summit says that the city is looking into a different program that registers the actual individual who lives at the home rather than the entire household. There are no plans for that as of right now.
The city of Scottsdale also offers a different program called Lockboxes for Seniors, which allows police and other emergency responders to gain entry into homes of elderly individuals without breaking in if they are unable to get to their door.
This service is offered to Scottsdale residents who meet the requirements. Participating are the Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors, Scottsdale Police and Fire Departments and Maricopa County Sheriff’s office.
Editor’s note: Kaley Kurowski is a journalism student at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and wrote the article as a class assignment.