Mobile Tips Help First Responders Aid Those with Disabilities

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: September 11, 2011

Laura Stough has a passion for preparing responders in disaster situations to provide top-notch care for individuals with disabilities and functional needs. In the wake of the Texas wildfires, that passion hit all too close to home. Stough, an associate professor of educational psychology at Texas A&M University, got the chance to put her expertise to work in her own backyard, literally.

Stough's family property is located in Bastrop County, near the Bastrop County Complex wildfire, which is the largest recorded wildfire in Texas history.

Coincidentally, Stough and the Project REDD team, part of the Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M, recently launched Mobile TIPS, a mobile-based website for first responders that provides essential, detailed instructions and resources to help people with disabilities or special needs.

Over the past several weeks, Stough has volunteered her time at the Emergency Operations Center in Bastrop, where she is spreading the word about Mobile TIPS to first responders and shelter volunteers and fielding questions about the needs of individuals with disabilities affected by the fire.

"With the exponential growth of mobile devices and the need for emergency responders to access information on the go, Mobile TIPS fills an essential gap," said Stough. "Time is of the essence in an emergency or disaster sitation. First responders need to know the appropriate and most effective way of interacting with and assisting people with disabilities."

Mobile TIPS covers many essentials, including mobility impairments, cognitive disabilities, autism, blindness, seniors, childbearing women and more. Each section of Mobile TIPS includes multiple instructions and real life, applicable scenarios.

For example, in the 'Mobility Impairments' section, one tip is: If the conversation will take more than a few minutes, sit or kneel to speak to the person at eye level. "The section about 'Service Animals' includes useful information such as: When a dog is wearing its harness, it is on duty. In the event you are asked to take the dog while assisting the individual, hold the leash and not the harness.

Mobile TIPS also includes contact information for state resources and groups. This will help first responders who may require additional information or may need to seek help for an individual with disabilities. In addition, the tips site provides a section that defines disability acronyms.

"Disasters and their affect on vulnerable populations has been an area of great research interest to me in the past decade," said Stough. "It is truly a privilege to have my research applied to assist people in time of critical need, especially so close to home."

Stough was asked to assist the Bastrop Office of Emergency Management in recording the stories of first responders and emergency personnel who responded to the Bastrop County fire. To date, more than 800 emergency responders from throughout the U.S. have responded to the call for assistance. The staging area for these responders is at Camp Swift, adjacent to Stough's neighborhood. The Bastrop County wildfire continues to burn and is currently only 60 percent contained (as of Monday, Sept. 12, 2 p.m.). Two people have lost their lives in the fire and more than 1500 homes have been reported burned to date.