Known as the Ready Harris Accessible Alert System, the new program will provide accessible alerts, warnings and preparedness information to individuals who are deaf, blind, hard of hearing, deaf-blind or low vision, according to Francisco Sanchez, deputy coordinator for the HCOHSEM. Additionally, Sanchez said the system will allow the HCOHSEM to better reach individuals with low literacy in English and in Spanish.
"According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, Harris County is home to the fifth largest population of persons with different types of disabilities and the second largest population of older adults with disabilities in the United States," Sanchez said during an Oct. 26 press conference. "Harris County will now, more robust than ever, house emergency preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation information on disasters in a way that is more accessible to more of our underserved communities."
According to Sanchez, the new system features a brail reader capability that can also send emergency alerts with sign language interpreting along with voice and closed captioning in English and in Spanish. The system works with video-capable devices such as computers, laptops, cell phones and wireless brail readers.
"In my more than 15 years here, this is one of the most significant technology and public outreach rollouts that we've had," Sanchez said. "Getting emergency public information should not be difficult. This makes it more easy and is just one example of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in serving the residents of Harris County."
Deaf Link CEO Kay Chiodo, who partnered with the HCOHSEM on the project, lauded the county's efforts in making information accessible.
"This is a great day in the history of people with disabilities, especially the deaf and deaf-blind communities," Chiodo said during the Oct. 26 press conference. "We're so grateful that this is happening and [for] the example that we're setting here today for across our nation. This shows what inclusion really looks like."
To sign up for Ready Harris Accessible Alerts, text AHAS to 281-609-9093 or click here.
"Communication plays a central role in disaster recovery, connecting survivors with resources and enabling collective action, so we can't leave anyone behind," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement. "Messaging and alert systems should be accessible to all of our communities, and this service will provide a needed lifeline to people with disabilities."