Saturday, March 25, 2023

James City County first responders hope to prevent the ‘unknowns’ of emergencies with this program

Emergency officials respond to calls of a fire in 2014. (WYDaily/Courtesy James City County)
Emergency officials respond to calls of a fire in 2014. (WYDaily/Courtesy James City County)

When a first responder knocks on a door, it’s not always clear what sort of situation they will walk into — a distrustful dog ready to bite the stranger entering the home, a violent person, a resident who is severely allergic to the latex gloves, or another unexpected situation.

James City County is promoting its Heads Up program, which aims to tackle those unknowns with the help of county residents.

Through Heads Up, residents can submit their information to county emergency services for their address. When an emergency call is received, that information will become available for first responders to use.

The information can be whatever they want to share, such as animals at the home, medical history and more, James City County Assistant Fire Chief Tristan Aiken said. 

“It could be anything,” he said. “Medical allergies, medications you’re on, if any residents are mobility- or hearing-impaired; English as a second language folks — Any pertinent information that would make our response better the earlier we know it.”

Here’s how it works. 

Residents can either fill out an information form online or print out a form and send it through the mail. That information is then entered into the computer-aided dispatch system and connected to the resident’s address. 

When an emergency call comes through to the communications center, dispatchers will receive a visual alert for the call’s address specifying there is Heads Up information available for review. The dispatcher will relay the information to police, fire or emergency medical personnel on the way to the scene — whatever type of scene it is, Aiken said.

First responders can also look up the Heads Up information using their computers in emergency and police vehicles.

Aiken said the information doesn’t always have to be about the resident or what’s inside their house — it can also include where spare keys are stored.

Police also have background information on whether a resident has previously been violent with first responders. That information is at a dispatcher’s fingertips.

Residents can give as little or as much information as they want because the Heads Up program is optional and not required.

“It’s whatever information you feel is important for them to know,” Aiken said.

Heads Up has been used in James City County since the early- to mid-2000s, Aiken said. While it’s not a new program, the county recently renewed an encouragement 

Aiken said there are some challenges with Heads Up, Aiken said.

The Heads Up system relies on residents to let the county know when they have an update or new information.

In some past cases, old information related to a past resident has remained in the system after the old resident moved out because they did not update the county, Aiken added.

To combat outdated information, the county does go through its system to make sure resident information is current.

“We want to get the appropriate resources that way,” Aiken said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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