County Offers Help for Disabled During Emergencies
By Mickie Anderson Staff writer
Published: Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 10:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 10:43 p.m.
Alachua County residents with sensory disabilities such as bad hearing or blindness can now get quicker warnings via technology that delivers news tailored for them.
County Emergency Management officials have contracted with Deaf Link, a San Antonio-based company, for two services.
The first is called the Accessible Hazard Alert System. The system sends alerts to internet and video-capable devices including computers, cell phones, tablets and wireless Braille readers, and the alerts are given via American Sign Language, English (voice) and by text.
The second service is called Shelter Link, and it helps emergency shelter directors quickly find a translator for anyone who turns up at a storm shelter needing sign language or language-interpreter help, said Dave Donnelly, the county’s emergency management director.
Of Alachua County’s roughly 253,000 residents, an estimated 40,000 are hard of hearing, deaf, blind or both, Donnelly said.
The county rolled out the new alert system in July but have had little luck reaching sensory-disabled residents to entice them to sign up, he said. So far, about 100 people have signed up for the Accessible Hazard Alert System.
About 58,000 of the county’s residents are signed up for Code Red, a system that gives emergency warnings and information by email, text or voice mail, depending on which options a user selects.
The county is paying $28,000 this year for the AHAS, but it will cost $4,000 less next year, Donnelly said. Federal emergency management grant money is paying for the system.
The Shelter Link program’s fees are based on use, so until someone uses it, there is no charge, Donnelly said.
Dan Heller, Deaf Link’s president, said company officials hope Alachua County’s experience with the company will prompt Florida officials to try it statewide.
Donnelly said county officials were pleased last week when Newberry officials needed to issue an emergency boil water notice after a water main broke. Deaf Link had a sign-language video produced and ready on a dime, he said.
“It was very impressive, how quickly they were able to turn the video around,” Donnelly said.
Heller said the company has a presence in California, Oklahoma and Texas and Alachua County is its first Florida client.
The challenge for his company, he said, is keeping pace with ever-changing technology.
Using technology to help get the word out immediately to Alachua County residents is part of the reason why, for the last 15 years, the county has been designated a StormReady county by the National Weather Service.
For more information:
To sign up for Accessible Hazard Alert System alerts:
To sign up for Code Red alerts:
Not an online person? Call Alachua County Emergency Management at 264-6500 to get help.