OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Emergency Services has a new program to help identify residents with a disability or special need in an emergency.
At the April 13 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners, Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen explained the SAFE Program started in Santa Rose County after an autistic young man was involved in a traffic accident. “Officers had some struggles with the young man because he was in a bad state,” the sheriff explained. The situation was worse than it had to be because the officers did not know the young man was autistic.
To help prevent similar problems in the future, they came up with a sticker system to alert emergency officials that an individual with special needs is in the vehicle.
Stickers placed in the back window of the car indicates a person with autism or other disabilities may be in the vehicle, the sheriff explained. “This sticker in the back window tells emergency officials someone in the vehicle may be upset beyond what we normally expect.”
The sticker has the logos for Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Okeechobee County Fire Rescue and Okeechobee Police Department with the words: “SAFE PROGRAM – MAY NOT RESPOND AS EXPECTED.”
Fire Chief Earl Wooten said the stickers can also be placed on homes.
Any Okeechobee city or county resident with a disability or special needs may enroll in the program. This may include:
• Down Syndrome,
• Alzheimer’s disease,
• Deaf or blind persons,
• Other communication disorders,
Residents who enroll in the program will be given the stickers at no charge. The stickers can be placed on homes and vehicles,
“In the event of an emergency, upon arrival, first responders see the SAFE decals and know to approach with extra care and understanding. Local emergency departments can access health information provided during enrollment, ensuring a positive, safe experience for all,” the SAFE brochure explains.
“I think this is amazing,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens. “It is going to protect the people who have autism or any other type of disability. It’s also going to protect the first responders.”
Commissioner Brad Goodbread complimented emergency officials on their “forward thinking move.
“I remember a few years ago there was an issue with an autistic child and nobody knew he was autistic,” said Goodbread. “This is a step in the right direction.”