How emergency response centers can get more data from callers

How emergency response centers can get more data from callers

To improve public safety response and preparedness, municipalities are signing up for an enhanced 911 solution that provides emergency dispatchers with more information about participating callers.

The Smart911 service lets users create an online safety profile that includes any information on themselves, their families or households that they would want 911 response teams to have in an emergency. Any public-safety answering point with the Smart911 software will be able to see this information when a registered user calls.

The Mountain Valley Emergency Communication Center in New Jersey, which covers the city of Summit, the borough of New Providence and the township of Millburn, was the first in the state to adopt Smart911 in late 2015.

“It provides great supplemental data that is often missed when people call 911 from wireless devices,” said Scott Ruf, executive director at Mountain Valley Emergency Communications Center. Ruf had used Smart911 when he was director of emergency communications for Douglas County, Kan., and brought the solution to New Jersey shortly after the center opened.  

“In just the 911 industry alone, we’re seeing significant increases in wireless communications from citizens,” Ruf told GCN. That, combined with the area’s dense population, made Smart911 a great fit for the community, he said.

Rave Mobile Safety, a public safety solutions provider, developed the platform to provide more information to 911 centers when someone calls from a mobile device. According to Todd Miller, vice president of public safety at Rave, about 75 to 85 percent of calls coming into 911 are from mobile phones, which do not always provide accurate location data. In addition, during an emergency, callers can forget to share critical information that could help dispatchers.

Along with phone numbers and addresses, citizens can upload health and medical information, disabilities, photos and physical descriptions of themselves and family members to their safety profile. Facilities like office complexes, K-12 schools, university campuses and municipal buildings also can be registered. A facility’s profile could include floor plans, emergency response plans, employee rosters, building blueprints and emergency contact details. Users can geo-fence specific buildings enabling the display of critical facility information for every call made from that location -- whether landline or wireless.

All this data is stored securely and privately within Rave’s national public safety infrastructure, a nationwide repository. Only those PSAPs with the Smart911 software installed can access the database. The software reads the PSAPs Automatic Number Identification and Automatic Location Identifier feed during an inbound call, and uses that information to search within the national database. If there is a match for a registered user, the system will open a pop-up window on the call-taker’s workstation with that caller’s safety profile.

“It fits seamlessly within the standard operating procedures of our PSAPs today. We don’t have to have 911 call-takers try to swivel [their] chair over to another system,” Miller said. Smart911 is used in more than 3,000 communities and 42 states, and a user’s profile is accessible in any jurisdiction using the software, he added.

According to Ruf, Smart911 is integrated with the Mountain Valley Emergency Communications Center’s phone system and computer-aided dispatch system, but the remote database is secured by Rave. “We can only access the database if a phone number registered with Smart911 dials 911,” he said. Responders can’t browse the nationwide repository.

The New Jersey center benefits from Smart911’s communication tools as well, specifically the two-way text messaging chat function. In the event of a 911 hang-up or dropped call, even if the caller does not have a profile, the call-taker can send a text message back to the phone to make sure there isn’t an emergency or to confirm that the caller is in danger.  (A 2015 report found that that nearly a third of mobile-phone calls to 911 are accidental.)

In the past couple months, the center also began using Smart911’s Rave Command View control center, which allows Ruf and his team to better manage system statistics -- both historical and real-time data. “It gives us an idea of what’s going on and allows supervisors, when they can, to monitor what’s happening and jump-in and take over calls if the call-taker is also the dispatcher,” Ruf said.

The New Jersey center has been using Smart911 for about a year and has accessed safety profiles in life-saving situations. According to Miller, in Grand Traverse County, Mich., another Smart911 jurisdiction, having the correct home address in a caller’s safety profile shaved 11 minutes off the response time during a house fire.

“It’s not a hard sell when you look at the information we’re getting and how it’s utilized today,” he said.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a Reporter/Producer for GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media, Ziadeh was a contributing journalist for USA Today Travel's Experience Food and Wine site. She's also held a communications assistant position with the University of Maryland Office of the Comptroller, and has reported for the American Journalism Review, Capitol File Magazine and DC Magazine.

Ziadeh is a graduate of the University of Maryland where her emphasis was multimedia journalism and French studies.

Click here for previous articles by Ms. Ziadeh or connect with her on Twitter: @aziadeh610.


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