Area residents that take the time to enter personal information in an online database may save first responders critical time in an emergency, officials said.
Polk County Emergency Management announced a new service Monday offered to area residents called Smart911. Citizens enter information in an online profile — photos, house layout, pets, medical condition, etc. — that is linked to an email account and cellphone number.
“When someone calls 911 on a cellphone, the dispatcher doesn’t receive that much information about them,” said Samantha Brear, program specialist for the county’s emergency management. “This enhanced technology … will enable the 911 call takers to receive a lot more information about an individual. They can put in as little or as much information as they’d like.”
The following communities are included in the Polk County service area covered by the new program: Alleman, Altoona, Ankeny, Bondurant, Clive, Des Moines, Elkhart, Grimes, Johnston, Mitchellville, Norwalk, Pleasant Hill, Polk City, Runnells, Urbandale, West Des Moines and Windsor Heights.
It’s completely voluntary and comes at no extra cost to the taxpayer, save the $1 monthly phone bill surcharge already taxed by the state to pay for the program.
Create an online profile at www.smart911.com and it will appear immediately before a dispatcher for about 45 minutes when that 911 person makes a call. About 70 percent of calls made to 911 in the U.S. are made from mobile phones, according to Smart911’s website. Dispatchers are trained to ask questions to garner information about the caller and the situation.
With a quarter of a million calls coming from the Des Moines and West Des Moines area annually, officials hope citizens will create volunteers to speed-up the emergency response process, Brear said.
An entire family can create a profile connected to just one email address, adding information for each member.
Brear said the program is run by Rave Mobile Safety, a software company based in Framingham, Mass. The company uses security measures similar to large financial institutions, Brear said.
Polk County has a five-year contract with the company at $50,000 a year. Communities in 38 states already use the program. Dubuque County is the first to put it to use in Iowa.
“It’s great, especially with people getting away from landlines, which links us to your address and phone number, whereas with cellphones, it’s just a number and a point on the map,” said Mark Murphy, emergency communications center manager for Dubuque County.
Murphy said the service has even allowed dispatchers to use text message capabilities to keep in touch with a person in need.
Even if a citizen lives outside Polk County, his or her profile would pop up inside the county’s boundaries in an emergency.
“Even the simplest of details can help our officers during an emergency,” said Sgt. Brent Kock of West Des Moines Police. “From knowing the access points to the home, whether there is a pet we need to be aware of when approaching or entering the home, or just knowing the name of the person in distress can enhance the safety of our citizens and our officers.”
Monday marks the first day the site goes live in Polk County.