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Smart911 Advances Aid Domestic Violence, Trafficking Victims

With the technology, the 911 operator can view the profile of the caller and learn about any mental health issues or potential problems with mental illness, human trafficking, or domestic and gang violence.

Government Technology/David Kidd
For family members of someone suffering from mental illness, calling 911 can be a necessary but frightening experience. The same can be said for someone suffering from domestic violence or gang violence.

Suffolk County, N.Y., has been trying to ease the pain for those on the dialing end of a 911 call as well as those responding, and the county continues to advance those measures by providing more data through Rave Mobile Safety Smart911 technology.

The technology allows for subscribers to develop profiles on loved ones, family members or friends who may suffer from mental illness or cognitive behavioral issues. The enrollee can submit information about subjects, such as certain behavioral issues, pictures, places they are known to frequent and comments about what may be useful for de-escalation.

And now there are applications for domestic violence victims who may be afraid to call. An enrollee who is a potential victim of violence can submit code words, such as “pepperoni pizza” to mean that they are in trouble and need help.

“In your safety profile, you’re able to put in a password or code word so that the 911 operator has the ability to put pieces of the puzzle together quicker instead of saying, ‘You’ve dialed the wrong number,’” said Joel Vetter, chief of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services for Suffolk County.

Vetter said it’s those types of calls — the domestic violence, gang violence and sometimes mental health calls — that “make my hair stand up on the back of my neck."

“A lot of times," he said, "those are the calls where a third party called 911 for either someone who’s acting out or because their loved one is no longer medically compliant or has [run away] or is suicidal. Those are the situations where the individuals are at greatest risk, where the first responders are at greatest risk for a negative outcome.”

With the technology, the 911 operator can view the profile and relate to first responders what they will be encountering and how best to de-escalate the situation. Rave has tapped into next-gen technology by including a feature that allows the 911 operator to text the subject in question — say, someone who has gone missing or perhaps is the victim of human trafficking — and ask to share location or other information.

“The ability to push that information of the situation to first responders in real time before they arrive on the scene is making a big difference in the county,” Vetter said. “We’re telling people to contact us and we’re engaging them through text back and forth if they can’t talk, and we can give that information to our responding law enforcement or EMS.”

Suffolk County works with local advocacy groups that help educate the first responders and are resources for victims, and is in the process of developing QR codes that victims can tap into and get a list of where to go for help. “A lot of times you can’t hand someone a brochure,” Vetter said. That’s especially true of someone suffering from domestic violence, human trafficking or gang violence.

The technology can be used during events or disasters as well to let people know about special needs sheltering or, for example, aid someone who is homebound and on dialysis, according to Vetter. “We have customized messaging based on what their individual needs are in real time.”