Hoquiam adopts lockbox program for emergency responders

May 25—Following a similar program that started recently in Aberdeen, Hoquiam has kicked off a program that provides lockboxes at no cost for applicants so first responders can gain access to their residence in an emergency without breakages.

Hoquiam's program is being started with a donation of 20 lockboxes from the local Home Depot, said Hoquiam Fire Chief Matt Miller.

"It started because Aberdeen got that grant. Paul MacLeod, who is a Hoquiam resident, saw that and said, 'we need that,'" Miller said in an interview. "I got involved with it and contacted the Aberdeen Home Depot."

The program is intended for those living alone who may require emergency assistance so that responding police or fire personnel can obtain entry without being forced to breach in through a door or window, leaving the residence less than secure and in need of repair, Miller said.

"This program is really aimed at the elderly and/or disabled. Not limited to, but aimed at. Specifically the ones living by themselves," Miller said. "If a person is living alone and we need to take them to the hospital, we can turn around and lock the door."

The store manager Deanna Emery-Perron and assistant store manager Amy Ayala supported the project wholeheartedly, going above what he had hoped to achieve, Miller said. Home Depot, alongside MacLeod's financial donation, means the program is currently operating at no cost to taxpayers.

"They helped significantly and are going to work with us to stretch out the donation as long as we can," Miller said. "Amy and Deanna were excited for it and were very happy to take part."

With the lockboxes in hand, the program is live, Miller said. The lockboxes are a solid model, Miller said. Renters or apartment tenants will need to seek permission from the owner of the residence, Miller said.

"It's not going to just be popped open with a screwdriver," Miller said. "They appear to be very secure, more or less weathertight."

Police or fire personnel will work with applicants to find a discreet place to install the lockbox, install it, and set the code. The code will go in a secure database for county emergency personnel, Miller said.

"When a call comes out to that address, it comes up with a little warning that, hey, there's information about this place," Miller said. "The 911 system runs through a secure network. Police and fire are the only ones that have access to it."

The code will either be transmitted to the responding unit or they'll call the dispatch center on a private line, not over the radio, Miller said — the lockbox code isn't going out for anyone with a scanner to hear.

"It will not be publicized over the air," Miller said. "It's not going out on the radio."

Now, emergency personnel will be able to medevac a patient, if need be, and to lock the door behind them, preventing unwanted intrusions, Miller said. Aberdeen's program has seen considerable interest, said Cmdr. Steve Timmons of the Aberdeen Police Department.

"It's going fantastic. I think we've done over 100 so far," Timmons said. "Every Wednesday we meet up and they go out and do 'em."

Aberdeen's emergency services have had cases where the presence of a lockbox meant emergency personnel didn't have to break through a door, Timmons said, including a recent welfare check where a resident required medical assistance.

Applications will be available online at the city government's website at https://cityofhoquiam.com/residential-lock-box-program/, or in person at the Hoquiam fire station, the Hoquiam Police Department or at Hoquiam's city hall, Miller said. Installation should only take minutes, but may depend on the fire department's availability as they respond to calls, Miller said.

"I think this'll be a good program to help us, police and fire, help our citizens, and not inflict any damage on their homes or apartments," Miller said.

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@thedailyworld.com.