Few rural residents use 9-1-1 registry

HILLTOWNS —  Only 10 people in the Hilltowns are currently registered for check-ins with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, though officials says this may be due to the towns’ population. But some are looking to change that.

In the town of Rensselaerville, no one is registered on the Albany County Sheriff’s 9-1-1 registry. In Knox, only one person is currently registered.

In the Hilltowns, the people the county workers visit are very self-sufficient, said Brian Wood who heads Albany County Sheriff’s Emergency Management Department.

“These people out here in the hills are resilient,” Wood said, recalling a woman the county checked on who was in her 90s, living without electricity during a snowstorm.

“She flatly refused to leave her home,” he said.

Knox Councilman Kenneth Saddlemire, who was appointed the town’s emergency management coordinator at the beginning of the year, said at the Jan. 9 town board meeting that he wanted to make a list of people who have “special needs,” such as having to use an oxygen tank or wheelchair, and could be affected by power outages or other events.

Saddlemire asked that people contact him, and he would then send their names and addresses to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff’s deputies would then check on these people in emergencies and the information would be given to 9-1-1 dispatchers to alert emergency responders as well.

Albany County residents can also contact the sheriff’s office directly to be registered on the Albany County Sheriff’s Emergency Management Department list of people to be checked on over the phone and in person during an emergency – which could range from a snowstorm to a heat wave. The list is for people who are vulnerable, said Linda Nash, who is Wood’s administrative assistant for the department head. Nash is responsible for updating the records of those who volunteer to be registered, with regular calls made to update their information.

The entire registry in Albany County has about 980 people currently on it, said Nash, but the list is constantly changing with new people being registered and others being taken off the list because they have died or moved to an assisted-living center.

Although, the registry covers all of Albany County, some places like the city of Albany and the town of Guilderland have their own police officers check on residents, said Nash, and so the primary focus of the sheriff’s office is in and around the Helderberg Hilltowns.

The primary areas visited by the sheriff’s office are the Hilltowns, as well as New Scotland and Coeymans and their respective villages of Voorheesville and Ravena. In total, there are about 60 currently people registered in these rural municipalities, said Nash. During the last big storm, the sheriff’s office checked on 12 the people from this area, said Wood; four were from New Scotland, four were from Coeymans, and four were in the Hilltowns.

Right now, six people are registered in Berne, three people are registered in Westerlo, one person is registered in Knox, and none are registered in Rensselaerville, Nash said. In New Scotland, eight people are registered; in Voorheesville, four people are registered; in Coeymans, 28 are registered; and in Ravena, three people are registered, she said.

Nash said that a low number of people registered could be due to a low population, as is the case in the Hilltowns. Berne had 2,794 at the last federal census in 2010, Knox had 2,692, Westerlo had 3,361, and Rensselaerville had 1, 843. The population for the entire county was 304,204.

Nash said that the sheriff’s office makes an effort to inform residents about the registry in order to add new participants, such as mentioning the registry during presentations and having the county’s social services department give out the applications to be on the registry. Word of mouth from neighbors or relatives or media attention also helps, she said.

The registry is divided into four tiers in order to determine who should be checked on first during an emergency, with Tier 1 being the highest priority and Tier 4 being the lowest, said Nash. During an emergency, sheriff’s deputies and emergency-medical-service workers from the county visit those who are registered. Those on the list are called as well, she said, and, if someone can’t be reached, a person listed as an emergency contact is reached.

Wood said that the dozen people the sheriff’s office visited during the storm on Jan. 12 were part of the first tier due to their being completely alone at home.

“All we’re doing is just checking to make sure they’re OK,” he said.

In the last three or four years, only one person needed medical attention, said Wood; the person was taken to the hospital for a mild medical condition. But Wood said that people living alone still need to be checked on.

Knox Supervisor Vasilios said that, during the Jan. 12 storm, he received around a dozen phone calls, including two from seniors needing assistance and others looking to help. The supervisor said that the town was in contact with the sheriff’s office at least a day prior to the storm.

“I did communicate with several residents who contacted me and offered their assistance. I asked them to please check on their friends and neighbors and they were happy to comply,” he wrote in an email to The Enterprise last week. “In the remote Hilltowns it’s important that we maintain a community effort and look after each other.”

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