Police work with programs, groups to assist response
Northern Regional police Chief Robert Amann knows that loud sirens, flashing lights and barking dogs can cause sensory overload for people with autism and make an emergency situation go from bad to worse.
His department has participated in Premise Alert, a program that allows 911 dispatchers to alert emergency responders about the special needs of residents with conditions such as autism or dementia before they arrive on the scene, for about seven years.
“If we know ahead of time that someone might react differently to a situation, that allows us to be ahead of the game so that we're not creating more of a problem,” Amann said.
The Northern Regional Police Department has about 10 residents in Bradford Woods and Marshall, Pine and Richland townships whose needs are registered with the county.
Now that the Premise Alert program is going countywide, along with other services to help those in law enforcement and families and caregivers keep track of individuals with autism or dementia, Northern Regional will play a larger role in helping better serve those with special needs.
Northern Regional will begin working with Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that helps locate adults and children who wander because of issues with Alzheimer's disease, autism or other conditions, Amann said.
Those enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits a tracking signal. If a client goes missing, the caregiver notifies a local Project Lifesaver agency, and a team responds.
Two Northern Regional officers will be trained on a tool that can track those who go missing in the department's member communities, along with others in the North Hills, such as Franklin Park; McCandless; and Ross, Shaler and Hampton townships.
Northern Regional is one of four police departments in the county who will have the tool to track these missing individuals, Amann said.
“If this tool saves one child, it's worth it,” he said.
Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Tom Swan said there has been a lack of awareness when it comes to interaction between those in law enforcement and people with autism, and he hopes to better educate officers and emergency medical responders through these programs.
“As we looked around the country, we saw stories of more and more actions misinterpreted, sometimes with unfortunate results,” Swan said.
Money seized during drug prosecutions is paying for safety equipment for families such as tracking bracelets, transmitters and batteries, locking devices and door alarms, Swan said.
Earlier this year, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala's office distributed a DVD to police agencies across the county to demonstrate ways to properly interact with people with autism.
The DVD piggybacks on a film the Autism Society of Pittsburgh created about a decade ago, society President Dan Torisky said.
Torisky said society officials are expanding their training to include all levels of the legal system, “from patrol and probation officers all the way up to magistrates and judges.”
“They want their people to be able to do this, because it reduces their problems and reduces the likelihood of a situation escalating to catastrophic proportions,” he said.
Torisky, of Monroeville, knows how hard it can be to recognize on the spot that someone has autism.
“It often takes a psychiatrist several hours to properly reach a diagnosis,” he said.
The Franklin Park and McCandless police departments both are participating in the Premise Alert program, and caregivers of special-needs individuals are encouraged to register.
“We've had exposure to autistic people before,” said McCandless police Chief Gary Anderson, who considers Premise Alert an asset to emergency responders.
“We'll have a little advantage in helping someone,” he said.
Tammie Sauers, a Richland resident who is involved in the local autism community and whose son has autism, knows firsthand the problems that a lack of awareness can lead to in emergency situations.
Last year, police responded when Sauers' son, Ben, climbed a 60-foot tree and wouldn't come down. She said the loud sirens and the flashing lights were too much for him to handle and made the problem worse.
She would like to work with Northern Regional police on the Premise Alert program and distribute registration forms in her store, Precious Needs in Richland, which sells specialized products for people with autism.
“I think it's a fantastic idea.” Sauers said.
Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or email@example.com. Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Bennett a healthy scratch
- Wall Street closes January on down note; Dow sheds 251 points
- Derail ‘fast track’
- Walker preps for potential campaign
- Punishing innocents
- Catholic Education Week: School choice & more
- Right on radar searches
- Who’s hiding?
- Saturday essay: A new (& blue) feeder
- In memory of ‘Lee’ Elby
- Rushing to stop Obama