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, www.smart911.com, 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.