The ongoing battle with the coronavirus and the threat of a possible hurricane presents a daunting challenge for first responders, but in Charleston County, S.C., dispatchers face the challenge with some additional data on residents who may be calling 911.
For the more than 5,000 residents signed up for Smart911, dispatchers will be privy to who among them has had contact with the Department of Health as it relates to who has been diagnosed with or treated for the disease.
That information is in addition to the data that the subscriber provided when signing up for Smart911 service. That information gives first responders insight into what is awaiting them when going out on a call and if they will need additional personal protective equipment (PPE).
“It gives first responders the knowledge that they may need more PPE and they need to prepare for virus exposure,” said Kaitlin Jordan, public educator and dispatcher with the county’s consolidated 911 center. If residents call 911 having shortness of breath, they may not be able to tell us anything, so if it’s on their profile that they’ve been quarantined by a health professional, we need to know that.”
Jordan said the county is always pushing for residents to sign up for the Rave Mobile Safety Smart911 feature but had a special educational push in April because of the coronavirus and an impending hurricane season.
“Now that we have the coronavirus in play, if residents call 911, they can put in their profile if they have flu-like symptoms or if they’ve been quarantined,” Jordan said. “There are many hazards and we push Smart911 all year long, but we definitely try to beef it up before hurricane season.”
The Charleston County Emergency Management Department always stresses the importance of having a hurricane plan, according to Director Jason Patno, but this year is different because of the limited availability of places to shelter.
“This year we are using a graphic to explain that due to social distancing requirements, the capacity at our hurricane shelters is much lower in comparison to previous hurricane seasons,” Patno wrote in an email. “We continually remind citizens that the safest place to be during a hurricane is well inland away from the coast and citizens need to have plans in place now should the governor issue an evacuation order.”
The county got a taste of Tropical Storm Isaias earlier this month and a chance to put some of the changes in protocol into practice. “This year we changed a lot because we can’t fill the 911 center as we usually do and there aren’t as many public shelters or public transport,” Jordan said.
The Smart911 helps the county with the vulnerable populations that are already underserved and may struggle with the additional hurdles of the coronavirus and a potential storm. “They might have struggles with evacuating and getting to a safe place, but we’ve made it as clear as possible that the public shelters aren’t necessarily going to be available as they normally have, so people are going to have to prepare themselves better this year,” Jordan said.
She said if asked to evacuate, residents need to have a few extras on hand, including food, gloves, masks and cleaning supplies, because of the coronavirus.
The Smart911 profile can include things like who lives in a household, who may have special needs, what pets are present, who has special medication needs and whatever else the resident deems essential.
“They download the free app on a tablet or smartphone and start with a phone number that links to their profile,” Jordan said. “You just need a phone number and whatever else you want to include. You can include what you want us to know.”