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911 Responders in Georgia Aided by Online Citizen Profiles

User-contributed profiles assist emergency responders, particularly when citizens call from cell phones.

by / March 7, 2011
Chad Vanderveen

Two Georgia cities have implemented software that allows citizens to create online profiles that assist emergency responders when answering 911 calls.

The profiles from Smart911 are designed to provide more personal information about a 911 caller so that emergency responders are better equipped to deal with that caller’s needs. Users can go online to the Smart 911 to input a range of information about themselves, such as phone numbers, household information, medical conditions, photos of children and information about their pets, according to the company’s website.

Two municipalities in Georgia are among the adopters of Smart 911. They pay a fee per user seat. Since January, nearly 1,000 Sandy Springs residents have registered an online profile — about 1 percent of Sandy Springs’ population of 100,000. The service is free to use by citizens.

To create awareness about the new system, Sandy Springs met with local institutions such as hospitals and a local high school, said Noah Reiter, the city’s assistant city manager.

About 17 miles to the northeast, Johns Creek, Ga., isn’t far behind on its own implementation, said Joseph Estey, deputy director of operations and human resources of ChatComm 911, Sandy Springs’ outsourced emergency center. “It’s a very forward-thinking community and they’re still assembling ideas and thoughts on how they want to roll this out.”

If a citizen calls in a 911 emergency and has a Smart911 profile, the emergency call taker forwards the person’s profile information that’s relevant to the emergency to first responders, Reiter said. For example, if a parent is a registered Smart911 user and has a photo of his or her child on the profile, that photo can be sent to emergency responders if the parent reports the child missing.

“Our call takers in the 911 call center would immediately have a recent photograph of their child and would have the ability to forward that photograph out to all of our officers on duty as well as our fire department staff,” Reiter said.

All of Sandy Springs’ public safety fleet is using Panasonic Toughbooks, so once profile information is forwarded, emergency responders can access that information on their computers out in the field, Reiter said.

Improvement for Mobile Calls

In some traditional 911 centers, citizens can submit personal information that would be relevant to an emergency call — attached as a note linked to that citizen’s residential address on the center’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. If that citizen calls 911 on his or her landline phone, that personal information presents itself to the call taker.

But since most people don’t make 911 calls on land lines — more than 80 percent of 911 calls in Sandy Springs are made on mobile phones — information programmed on a CAD system relies on citizens calling from land lines. With Smart911, emergency call takers can access profiles even if the caller has dialed from a cell phone.

But it’s the citizen’s responsibility to ensure that all information entered into the profile is accurate. Since the information is secured on the company’s servers, the city has no access to profile information until a user calls 911.

To keep profile information updated, Smart911 sends notifications twice a year to its users to update or validate existing information on the profiles. If after multiple notifications, the user doesn’t update or verify his or her profile, the profile is suspended until updated. When a user’s profile is suspended, 911 call takers don’t have access to the profile until it’s been reactivated.

“If [profile users] were to call 911 in between the suspension and the reactivation, we would not see their profile,” Reiter said. “And that’s a safeguard because it’s perhaps worse to receive information that might no longer be valid than to receive no information at all.”


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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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