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Archive for Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Douglas County buys into Smart 911 system

September 28, 2011

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Soon Douglas County residents will be able to inform emergency dispatchers in advance of emergencies — all so that police, fire and medical personnel responding to a 911 call will be aware of a caller’s diabetes, history as a victim of domestic violence, storage of medicines in the kitchen, or anything else that could help find a missing adult, avoid an angry dog or communicate with an autistic child.

But even with all those capabilities offered by a new Smart 911 system approved Wednesday evening by Douglas County commissioners, the administrator of the county’s dispatch center would settle for much less.

People simply should sign up for the voluntary program, Scott Ruf said, and at a minimum register the most basic of information.

“I don’t care if you put nothing else in there but your name and your cellphone,” said Ruf, the county’s director of emergency communications. “Because today, (if) you dial 911 on your cellphone, we have a better than average chance of finding you. But with this, we can almost send them right to where you’re playing, sitting, standing or parked.”

The system will cost the county a total of $93,000 over the next five years, and add an interactive, Web-based component to a system that takes up to 900 incoming calls each day for help and dispatches emergency personnel throughout Lawrence, Eudora, Baldwin City, Lecompton and rural areas of the county.

People will be able to register their information, starting with names and phone numbers, on a secure website, one to be accessible by emergency dispatchers only when a person calls 911. On the site, the person could register details about family members, medical histories, medications and other special conditions and circumstances that could be useful for emergency personnel being sent to help.

By registering their mobile phones, people will enable dispatchers to tap into GPS technology on those phones so that a call from a parking lot would be pinpointed more accurately than through current means, Ruf said. That’s important, considering that more than 70 percent of calls coming into the dispatch center come from mobile phones.

If a caller also has entered a vehicle into the system — the person owns a blue minivan, for example, or a red Mustang — then responders might know what to look for upon arrival in, say, the Dillons parking lot at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

“We think this is a win-win,” Ruf said.

Registration will be voluntary, and people who provide details will be reminded to update their data at least once every six months. Otherwise, the file would go inactive and be inaccessible by dispatchers and other emergency personnel.

Commissioners agreed to finance the system using money generated by fees on landline and wireless phones for 911 services. The county received about $485,000 last year from such fees, and the county expects to see those revenues increase by at least 20 percent for next year.

“This will be very helpful for law enforcement, and it will be very helpful for the person in distress,” said Jim Flory, commission chairman.

The system will be provided through Rave Mobile Safety, a Massachusetts-based company that already provides emergency alert services for Kansas University. The Smart 911 service will extend to KU’s own dispatch center at no additional charge because the KU center serves as a backup for the county’s center.

Ruf said he would expect the system to be up and running within two months.

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