New Milford may become the site of one of two regional emergency shelters designed to meet the needs of vulnerable area residents with special needs.

This population would be children and adults with disabilities affecting their ability to function independently without support, as defined by Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

Danbury and New Milford have been targeted as the best sites for such shelters in the region served by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials because each municipality has a hospital.

"The severe weather-related emergencies of 2011 demonstrated that most of the individuals requiring additional assistance (IRAA) have specialized service needs." said Jonathan Chew, HVECO director, "beyond the existing capabilities of municipality's general shelters."

New Milford Health Director Mike Crespan has been involved in the planning process for these shelters as a member of the Housatonic Valley Regional Public Health Emergency Planning Committee.

Mr. Crespan was out of town and unavailable for comment this week.

"New Milford's being considered because we have New Milford Hospital here," said Mayor Pat Murphy, who declined to comment further.

As the plan has been developed, modifications would be made to shelter policies and practices to accommodate people with functional needs, including durable medical equipment (wheelchairs, canes, walkers, etc.) as well as consumable medical supplies (such as oxygen), with personal assistance services provided.

Grant funds are being sought from the state by HVCEO to conduct a planning study to develop a "Regional Plan for Functional Needs Emergency Sheltering."

The next step once the study is completed would be to request funds for establishing shelter sites.

"We have a medically fragile and vulnerable population," said Matt Cassavechia, EMS director for Danbury Hospital. "In October, the challenge we had was providing shelter based on different area residents' needs."

"The amount of people who were coming to the hospital for needs, including having to power oxygen supplying devices, put a surge on hospital resources," Mr. Cassavechia said.

"We set up an impromptu special needs shelter at the Bill Williams Gym at Western Connecticut State University, with registered nurses, paramedics and hospital beds," he added. "It served 25 area residents."

Dr. John Murphy, CEO of Western Connecticut Health Network, supports HVCEO's planning.

"While we were able to come together and provide an ad hoc response as the crisis evolved (in October), a more detailed and properly vetted plan is indicated to adequately address our community needs in the event similar circumstances warrant," Dr. Murphy wrote in a June 14 letter to HVCEO Chairman John Hodge, the New Fairfield first selectman.

Mr. Cassavechia said it became apparent in October that a second shelter is needed.

"With trees down and other conditions making transportation to Danbury difficult or impossible," Mr. Cassavechia said, "we realized we need two regional shelters staffed as such."

The two shelter locations would be set up -- one in Danbury, one in New Milford -- to see needs of this fragile population are met without separating people from their families, he added.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322