The Howard County Police Department is expanding its voluntary 911 flagging program, which allows households to “flag” their address in the county’s 911 database if a person living in the home has a disability.
Families can note if someone in the home may have special needs or circumstances that could affect how first responders react in an emergency situation. For example, if a person has dementia and often wanders to the same location, families could note that and first responders would know to check that location immediately if the person is missing.
The program could also be helpful for a person who is deaf and therefore cannot respond to verbal directions from emergency officials, according to police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
The program was established in 2012 through a partnership between the department and the Howard County Autism Society to help alert first responders if someone at an address had autism or a similar disability. Since then, 175 families have registered in the program, according to Llewellyn.
Now in the program’s expanded form, families can also flag their home if a person has Alzheimer’s; physical, intellectual, developmental or degenerative disabilities; mental health diagnoses; or other behaviors that could affect an emergency response.
For those with dementia, the program is an “excellent” concept, said Shelley Jennings, Family Care Coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Associaton’s Greater Maryland chapter.
Jennings said that when police interact with someone with dementia, it can be especially important for the individual to understand that the police are not a threat, and officers may need to speak in soft and soothing tones. Police are often called if an individual got lost on the way home from a location they used to know the route for, such as the grocery store. Most individuals with dementia will wander at some point, Jennings said.
“We encourage families to contact the police to let them know that they have someone in the home with dementia,” Jennings said. “[Police] can approach the home differently [and] be able to communicate better.”
No official diagnosis is required to flag an individual in the system, and there are no restrictions on flagging, according to Llewellyn. A flagging request form is available on the Howard County Police Department website, and all information shared in the request is kept confidential and only used by first responders.