City Organizing Voluntary Registry of Autistic and Individual Needs Residents

Police and firefighters would be relayed vital personal information about people during an emergency situation.


A firefighter, police, or person in need of rescue could be saved, if emergency responders know vital information about the people they're rescuing.

Boston emergency response leaders continued the conversation of creating a citywide "individual needs" registry that would relay vital personal info during a rescue to firefighters and police.

Last Thursday, District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo led a hearing with testimony from Boston Emergency Medical Services, Police, and Fire leaders. Members of the Boston Center for Independent Living and Family Autism Center also spoke.

Autistic Children Sometimes Resist Rescue

There have been examples of autistic children not cooperating with rescuers, according to Westwood Fire Captain William Cannata. In a case he cites, a young man had been told by his parents not to leave the house without clothes. The young man resisted rescuers — he even tried to go back into his burning house to get a shirt, according to a story Cannata tells.

Cannata is the project coordinator for the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition and father of an autistic child. He spoke about the logistics of creating a citywide registry. He spearheaded the one Westwood and is considered a national leader on the issue.

"It’s great that the , but how do they know who those individuals are when they are there (on scene)?" asked Consalvo. "How is that information (kept) in one spot, so emergency personnel can access it?"

Boston Police Officer Michelle Moffeo said the North Star Personal Alert program currently used by police could be shared with other Boston departments.

"It actually provides communication between police officers and people with disability. It's not currently shared, but it can be," she said.

Voluntary Program

The North Star Personal Alert Program is "a voluntary program for parents, guardians or caretakers of children and individuals who may have a tendency to wander or are a flight risk from a specific location."

Cannata said marketing and community outreach are integral to creating a voluntary list. At first Westwood sent out 500 notices to families with individuals with disabilities such as dementia, autism and movement disorders. They got a only two responses back. He said they then held workshops and reached out to individuals and got up to 200 individuals on the registry. Suggestions were made to reach out to places like senior citizen homes and schools to grow a Boston registry.

He also stressed the value of providing first responders with individual needs info. "Knowing that someone is doing something because of a disability goes a long way," he said, "because you have an understanding of that person instead of trying to figure out the scene. It can be a scene of chaos."

Other logistics discussed including how to keep the registry up-to-date, that any info can be added to the list, like if someone has a respirator or uses a wheelchair. Also discussed was the name of the registry, with Stacy Hart of the Boston Center for Independent Living suggested the registry not use the term "special" because it creates a negative connotation, instead she suggested using a phrase such as "individual needs."

Rick Rossi of Delta Development gave a presentation about his company’s individual needs registry. It can provide street-by-street and house-by-house information to emergency responders. The data goes right into the cab of a fire engine or police car during an emergency situation.

The order to create an individual needs registry for the City of Boston remains in the Boston City Council’s Public Safety Committee until further action.   


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