Next-Gen 911

Michigan to Launch Smart911 App to Help its 911 Centers

Smart911 reportedly played a role in the rescue of a Traverse City resident from his burning home.

by Landa Bagley, South Bend Tribune, Ind. / March 6, 2017
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(TNS) - For 911 call-takers, there’s usually no such thing as too much information.

But in some instances, the caller can't communicate for medical, safety or other reasons.

And then there are times when the locations of callers using cell phones can't be pinpointed. And nowadays, about 70 to 80 percent of 911 calls come from cell phones, according to public safety authorities throughout Michiana.

These challenges can make it difficult to get the right assistance and equipment to an emergency scene as quickly as possible.

Michigan state officials feel that Smart911 — a web-based computer application touted as being able to quickly provide 911 call-takers with useful information during incoming calls — can help.

Michigan Lt. Governor Brian Calley announced in November that the state will fund a $2.2 million dollar grant that would cover the cost for any 911 public safety answering point in Michigan to subscribe to Smart911 for up to 12 months. Smart911’s creator Rave Mobile Safety is offering an additional six months for free to the grant program participants.

Berrien County Public Safety/911 Dispatch and the Cass County 911 Dispatch Center each signed up for Smart911. There are 144 public safety answering points in Michigan. Of those, between 50 and 75 are in different stages of implementing the application, Hatline said.

“In an emergency situation, we can quickly get crucial information, such as whether there is a wheelchair-bound person in the house,” Cass County Sheriff Rick Behnke, a former director of Cass County’s 911 center, told the Tribune. “That’s a capability that Smart911 would bring to the table.”

Smart911 reportedly played a role in the rescue of Traverse City resident Dan Hoffman from his burning home.

When he called 911 using his cell phone, Hoffman was unable to give his location or say what was going on because he had gotten overcome with smoke. On dispatch screens, Hoffman’s location was shown as being somewhere in Lake Michigan. But his Smart 911 profile helped narrow down his possible locations, and 11 minutes were shaved off of the response time.

Without a Smart911 profile or something like it, locations of cell phone callers can be narrowed down to a small area. How small that area is depends on the location of the nearest cell towers used to find the caller. Cell phones with built-in Global Positioning Systems enable the dispatch center to determine a cell phone caller’s location, within 100 feet, a high percentage of time, according to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatch webpage.

Anyone can create a Smart911 profile at no charge. Individuals can determine how much information to include. Among the common types of information included are medications, addresses, allergies and details about a person’s home. A company or business profile can be created as well, also for free.

Information in the profiles are only seen by emergency call-takers at any participating public safety answering point nationwide — and only when the calls are from phone numbers associated with Smart911 profiles, according to Kevin Hatline of Rave Mobile Security. Hatline also said Smart911 is secure, and the information is never sold or given to a third party other than 911 call-takers.

If state funding for this service is discontinued at the end of the grant period, local governments would have to pay the fees for keeping Smart911.

At its current price per workstation, Smart911 would cost Cass County between $8,000 and $12,000 per year and it would cost Berrien County between $36,000 and $41,000 per year.

Smart911 is not used in many parts of northern Indiana.

However, Brent Croymans, executive director of St. Joseph (Indiana) County, Indiana’s 911 center, said he is looking at another web-based computer application with many features, including one similar to Smart911’s profiles.

Todd Anderson, assistant director of Elkhart County’s 911 Center, said people can submit information directly to Elkhart’s center and that information will be put into the center’s computer program. That information is then accessible during calls.

Porter County, Indiana has been using Smart911 and its profile feature since 2011. CJ Wittmer, director of Porter County 911, said Smart911 has worked “very well,” and is worth the $20,000 the county spends annually on the application.

“All it takes is one caller’s life saved, one caller helped, one emergency responder going into a situation with more knowledge that can keep him or her safe. Then," Wittmer said, "we know it’s worth the money spent."

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©2017 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

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