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Establishing Information-Sharing Partnerships: The Connecticut Approach

By Daniel A. Micari and Dennis J. Mitchell

The events of September 11, 2001 focused public attention on existing emergency preparedness, response, and recovery practices. Government entities across the country were asked to review, and if necessary, develop and/or revise their response to a catastrophic event. In Connecticut, the governor asked each state agency to develop comprehensive plans to address such events.

People involved in emergency preparedness and response must appreciate the likelihood that many community members may have cognitive disabilities that might diminish their ability to understand or respond to an emergency. With so many community members having a disability that may impact their ability to independently execute appropriate self-preservation actions, planning for emergencies and their aftermath is a challenging undertaking. In support of this effort, many of Connecticut’s 169 towns, supported by the state’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS), have developed or are considering developing a Special Needs Registry.

A Special Needs Registry represents a method whereby people indicating their need for special support during an emergency voluntarily list themselves, informing the local emergency authority of their presence. Towns employ such registries as an information source to support pre-emergency planning efforts. Registries are also used to alert citizens of impending emergencies. Additionally, emergency responders use registries to identify and prioritize emergency service efforts, such as evacuation, transportation, sheltering, and health care during and following a disaster. Community emergency management personnel in Connecticut consider such registries an extremely useful tool.

The Connecticut Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) provides services and supports to over 19,000 individuals and their families through a network of public and private providers. DMR realized early on that our support role, in the event of an emergency, could include the sharing of clients’ Protected Health Information with state and municipal emergency response personnel. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it would be essential for state and local emergency responders to have access to such information prior to an emergency event. Emergency management officials’ ability to access and analyze this information would be essential to the development of local emergency plans that would be responsive to the needs of all citizens.

To bridge any information gaps about the special needs of our clientele in an emergency, DMR and DEMHS established a collaborative relationship in 2002. Since then, DMR has participated in over a dozen DEMHS emergency drills associated with nuclear safety, homeland security, and natural disasters. At each, DMR brings to the attention of state, local, and/or federal emergency personnel the emergency management needs of the clients of the department. Additionally, a DMR Emergency Management Liaison Team is continually present at the DEMHS Emergency Operations Center during emergency management events.

Also in 2002, DMR developed a Special Operations Plan for Emergency Relocation for persons served in group residences and day programs operated or funded by DMR. The plan has been tested during local, state and federal emergency management exercises. Some key components of it are:

Additionally, DMR, with the support of DEMHS, has surveyed municipal emergency management directors as to what information about people they might need to plan for and execute emergency evacuation and relocation. Survey results will help shape information release forms to be signed by department clientele, authorizing DMR to release information about their emergency management needs to local and state emergency personnel. This form will indicate the information will be updated at least monthly by DMR, and that recipients of the information must keep it secure and ensure it is used only for the purpose of emergency planning and response. Status of individual release form information will be maintained by DMR in the emergency management database.

We, as service providers, must actively ensure the emergency management needs of those we serve are addressed. This includes establishing partnership and information-sharing relationships between people with special emergency management needs and government entities. We have found that innovative and balanced strategies that respect the individual’s right to privacy, while addressing their needs in a time of crisis, can be arrived at through ongoing dialogue between people with disabilities, service providers, and emergency management personnel.

Daniel A. Micari is Director of the Division of Quality Management, and Statewide Emergency Management Director, for DMR. He may be reached at 860/418-6081 or Dennis J. Mitchell is Statewide Emergency Management Coordinator for DMR. He is at 860/418-6105 or


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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota ( Citation: Moseley, C., Salmi, P., Johnstone, C. & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Spring/Summer 2007). Impact: Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities, 20(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration].

The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at

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