Archive for Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Douglas County first in state to offer Smart911

National safety database provides crucial emergency information

August 1, 2012


About 76 percent of 911 calls to Douglas County dispatchers last year came from mobile phones.

Instead of being able to see the exact address of the call, like they can from a land line, dispatchers can view only the cellphone number and wireless carrier. The call is tied into the county’s mapping system, so they can get the tower where the call was placed, but not an exact location for the person in distress.

It can take up valuable time in an emergency.

“Often we have to do a lot of research to figure out where they are or who they are,” said Scott Ruf, director of Douglas County Emergency Communications.

On Wednesday, county officials touted their participation in a national safety database, called Smart911 that allows residents to voluntarily submit information, including their name, address and even more, associated with a certain phone number, including cellphones. Douglas County is the first in the state to offer Smart911 to residents, officials said.

“I hope that other counties will soon follow to offer enhanced response so it can be available throughout Kansas,” said State Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence resident.

Ruf said dispatchers can access information from the database only when someone places a 911 call.

“It’s another resource for us,” he said. “It will make us more effective and efficient in delivering emergency services to people who need it.”

It’s offered through Rave Mobile Safety, a Massachusetts-based company that partnered with Kansas University on its campus alert system. Residents can register at a website,, and add as much information as they want. Safety officials encouraged residents to at least register their name and address.

“That is more than we get now, especially on wireless calls,” Ruf said.

Users can manage their information through the online account. Because the information only becomes available to dispatchers during 911 calls from a registered phone, the data is not available as a database for police or detectives to use, he said. But in the event of a 911 emergency, dispatchers would be able to push out information to officers, medics and firefighters.

Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern said entering more information and even photos in the profile could be beneficial in some cases, which is why public safety officials have worked with Douglas County Senior Services and Independence Inc. at pushing their clients to sign up for the system.

“In their profile, a citizen can tell us who lives in their house, what their medical conditions may be, if they have pets and where children’s bedroom locations are,” McGovern said. “If a child is missing, parents can have their current photo and description in their profile, allowing officers to have that photo in hand much faster. In an emergency, more information means greater effectiveness, saving invaluable time and lives.”

Ruf said the county will pay about $18,000 a year for the annual subscription with the funds coming from a 911 fee charged on phone bills. It’s collected by the state and most of the amount is reimbursed to counties.


somebodynew 5 years, 8 months ago

While this sounds like a really good system, and I plan to participate, there is a question - What if I make a call and am not at home??? If it is a medical or something and I can't speak will they automatically send officer to my home of record ??

Not trying to be a whiner, just asking a question. The article doesn't seem to answer that - - or I haven't had enough coffee this morning before reading. It could be either.

DillonBarnes 5 years, 8 months ago

Last time I called, the first thing the dispatcher did was to establish a location. She picked up and asked "what is the location of your emergency." I can't imagine that will change.

If you make a call and can't communicate, I imagine they would have the ability to cross reference the tower the call is coming from and the address provided to see if they are related. If they are close, your house would probably be the first attempt.

Chrissy Neibarger 5 years, 8 months ago

Also, reading the terms of service when signing up - it did state: Subscriber Critical Care Information also includes information collected through the use of Smart911 and dialing 9-1-1, such as the phone number placing a call into 9-1-1, and the location of a mobile phone registered with a household. YOU UNDERSTAND THAT SMART911 IS NOT ABLE TO LOCATE ALL MOBILE PHONES AND THAT THIS ABILITY WILL DEPEND IN PART UPON FACTORS SUCH AS TELEPHONE SERVICE PROVIDER, TELEPHONE SERVICE PROVIDER ACCOUNT LIMITATIONS OR DEVICE LIMITATIONS.

So it does sound as if they realize that not everyone is calling from the home address :)

Jake Esau 5 years, 8 months ago

Just signed myself up, it was very easy and intuitive. Most of the information is optional, but it's one of those things where the more you add the more you can help. Also one of those services you hope you never need in the first place.

It's particularly a good idea for those with pre-exisiting medical conditions that need attention in the event of an emergency: it's just one more way to make sure the paramedics have the information they need when arriving on scene.

Paul Gottesburen 5 years, 8 months ago

I figured the location data a PSAP was able to obtain was more detailed than just a tower. Many GPS enabled phones can easily determine the location of the phone and even some non-GPS phones can at least triangulate to get a general location. On my phone, it indicates that even turning off location services will not prevent your location from being sent during a 911 call.

Does the county not have a GPS enhanced 911 system?

Aside from that, having a voluntary database such as smart911 to list information about your residence and possible critical medical information seems helpful.

Jake Esau 5 years, 8 months ago

GPS chips in cell phones (or any other device) can take up to 10 minutes to acquire a location fix, way too long in an emergency situation. Also, they won't work inside a building. Your cell phone will send the best location it can, but sometimes that can be upwards of a mile off.

classclown 5 years, 8 months ago

What happens if a phone number is reassigned? Say someone has to give up their phone cause they can't afford it anymore or purposely gets their number changed for whatever reason.

Also, if someone does end up with a new number, would they remember to re register with the new one?

DillonBarnes 5 years, 8 months ago

This system is used as a reference, not a end all system. Systems are managed via an online account. You have access to change that information.

You are e-mailed every 6 months as a reminder to make sure that information is up to date.

Jake Esau 5 years, 8 months ago

It looks like the system tries to follow up with you every 6 months to make sure you keep your info up to date.

classclown 5 years, 8 months ago

I see. I was curious because I could see a lot of people signing up for this now and then completely forgetting about it. Thank you for the info.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

The sheriff used to have a system called H.E.L.P., which gave them information that citizens entered. If you had a specific illness, or different phone numbers, emergency phone numbers, etc. that could be entered. I really liked the system, and was sad when they stopped it. Maybe this will do what it did for cell phones. Anything that gets help to you faster, when you need it, is great.

abrown 5 years, 8 months ago

I work at Douglas County Senior Services, our phone number is (785) 842-0543. We are available to assist anyone over the age of 60 with the Smart 911 registration process or answer questions about the program. We are also able to set up appointments with seniors in their homes all across the county. If you know a senior that could use our help please have them give us a call.

Being registered with Smart 911 does allow for the operators to activate and trace your cell phone by GPS instead of relying upon tower signals. The system is primary a supplemental enhancement and so if you are able to communicate when you call, then the questions you are asked will still be the same. However it vastly improves their ability to respond to your call if for some reason you cannot communicate with them.

savinlives 5 years, 8 months ago

I am so glad that Douglas County hired a man from out of state that LOVES to spend money. This system is not as "great" as it sounds and there is a REASON no other center has it! It is a LOT of money! The equipment that Douglas County currently has provides excellent service to the citizens of Douglas County. However, you now have someone that is EAGER to spend the 911 Fee Fund money as fast as it gets deposited. I am SCARED to see what Douglas County 911 Center will look like in a few years when Captain Ruf runs it into the DIRT even further!

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