Registry Aims to Speed Aid to Elderly, Disabled

September 25, 2007
The Oregonian

Portland, Ore. – Disabled and elderly Multnomah County residents can now tell emergency workers where they live through a voluntary online registry designed to speed evacuations during fires, earthquakes and other disasters.

"The idea is to not let a Katrina happen here -- in other words, to know where people who are alone and at risk and are in need of evacuation live," said Mary Shortall, the county's division director for aging and disability services.

Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler visited the county Central Library on Monday to draw attention to the registry, which is a joint effort by the two governments. Officials hope 6,000 to 8,000 residents register within the next year. The county is home to 140,000 elderly or disabled residents.

Potter said the magnitude 3.6 earthquake that shook the Willamette Valley on Sunday night provides an "exclamation mark" on the registry's need. xxxx "We do know we're due for a large one," Potter said. xxxx City and county officials said the registry is voluntary for a reason. This isn't about government spying on people, they said.

"Going into it, we knew that would be an issue," said Nickole Cheron, the city's disability program coordinator, who is herself in a wheelchair. "People with disabilities, the last thing you want to do is sign up on a government list. I signed up for it. I'm in the registry. But if people don't feel comfortable with it, that's why it's voluntary."

The Web-based registry takes information about the nature of each person's disability or physical limitation. Registrants can choose whether to disclose the medications they take, and whether to give names and phone numbers of emergency contacts. Those without access to a computer can register by calling either the county's senior help line or the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

Those who sign up must agree to share their information with the Portland, Gresham and Multnomah County offices of emergency management; the city of Portland's disability program; the county's department of human services; the county health department and 9-1-1. They can choose whether to release the information whenever there's an emergency at their address, or to limit its release to declared disasters.

If residents elect to release information during routine emergencies, 9-1-1 dispatchers will relay it to police and other responders as they arrive at their address, said Michael Hardt, the county's emergency services coordinator. Registrants also can ask to receive updates on how to prepare themselves for emergencies.

Hardt said the next step will be mapping the data so emergency responders know which neighborhoods are home to the most vulnerable residents, and get to those places first during a disaster. Wheeler said he wants to see the system available in several languages.

Many other cities operate some form of a registry, but the city and county version is unique because the information is taken online, rather than by printing a paper form and mailing it.