During an emergency, seconds count.
A new service in Newberry County will help save precious time in getting fire, medical or police help to residents who call 911.
Smart911 is a nationwide service that allows users to create profiles that provide emergency responders with vital information about themselves or their households. Profiles are stored on a secure server and can only be accessed when a user calls 911, giving dispatchers information they normally would have to obtain during a 911 call.
“If you have somebody that’s having a medical issue, sometimes it’s hard to get their information – if they’re alone, if the door’s unlocked, if there’s a key, who we can contact to get in, their exact location,” said Terri Lawson, communications supervisor for Newberry County 911. “We’ll have it at our fingertips instead of having to go through the process.”
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Sheriff Lee Foster says he’s been working for more than a year to bring Smart911 to Newberry County.
“We’re a rural county,” he said. “In addition to that, we have a lot of senior citizens that live here. We felt like this would be an additional layer of protection that we could (use to) better get help to people that would call 911, especially if they are incapacitated or confused.”
There’s no cost for households or individuals to sign up, and the process is handled on a secure website. Users can provide the basics, such as their address, their home or cell numbers, the number of people living in their home or any pets that live there. They can also provide more specific information, such as the best door for emergency responders to enter, where in the home each person sleeps, any medical conditions residents suffer from or any medications they take.
Users also can provide pictures of each household member, which Chief Deputy Todd Johnson said could be useful for residents prone to wandering off, like young children or adults with dementia.
“Getting that picture in there could really be the difference between locating them quickly and it taking some time,” he said. “Because we can quickly get that information out to first responders and the public without you having to go look for it in an emergency.”
The information people provide is stored on a cloud-based server. If a person has created a profile, it will automatically display to the dispatcher when they call 911, and the information will only be available for an hour or until the call ends.
Medical personnel transporting someone to the hospital also will be able to access the profile through a secure portal using credentials, according to Johnson, who says he understands residents’ concerns about privacy or spying.
“In other words, we couldn’t go out and search numbers or search cars or search medicines or names,” he said. “It’s only accessible to the 911 center if you call 911.”
Because the information is stored on cloud server, and Smart911 is a nationwide service, the profile travels with the user. If they call 911 in an area that uses Smart911, the service will automatically engage with that user’s phone number and provide the same information to dispatchers in that area.
Newberry County is one of 14 South Carolina counties now using Smart911, according to Kelly Coates of Rave Mobile Safety, which operates the service. Other Midlands counties include Aiken, Edgefield, Orangeburg and Saluda counties.
About 3,600 households have created profiles in Aiken County, according to Cherie Moritz, geo-services coordinator for the county. Moritz estimates their 911 center receives 100 to 130 calls per month from callers with Smart911 profiles.
“The same encryption used by Rave Mobile Safety ... is the same encryption that’s used by banks in the United States,” she said of the security. “Many times, people are comfortable sharing their personal information on social media profiles. This is much more secure than that and for a much more important reason – to protect the safety of your lives and property.”
The startup cost in Newberry County was $60,000, with a $50,000 annual recurring cost, according to Foster. Much of that will be paid for by a state 911 reimbursement fund. About $10,000 of the startup cost will be split between the Sheriff’s Office, Newberry County Public Safety, the school district and the hospital.
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WHAT IS SMART911?
Smart911 is a nationwide service that allows users to create an online safety profile for their household that can be accessed by first responders during an emergency.
The profile includes information that could be critical to fire, police or medical personnel, such as how many people there are in a household, how many rooms there are in the home, the best door for first responders to enter or how many pets live there.
Users can provide as much or as little information as they want, including any medical conditions of household members, medications they are taking and even pictures of residents.