As implementation of the Smart911 system spreads in Arkansas, the software provider and its users have only basic data and an occasional anecdote to suggest participation levels and effectiveness. But data or no data, some are convinced of the system’s potential to save lives.
Smart911, a nationwide service created by Rave Mobile Safety of Framingham, Mass., first came to Arkansas in June 2012, shortly after the state Legislature passed Act 213 authorizing a $1 million appropriation to implement the system statewide. Although numerous local dispatch centers around the country were already using Smart911, Arkansas was the first to sign on for statewide coverage.
With Smart911 in place, residents can go online and create a private safety profile that local dispatchers can view when — and only when — residents call 911. The dispatchers can then relay useful information to emergency responders that the caller might forget or not have handy in the heat of the moment: Listings of medical conditions, allergies, photos of children, notes about pets, directions, floorplans, even pictures of the family home or car.
As early as July, Fort Smith EMS deployed the system, and the dispatch centers for the Fort Smith and Van Buren police departments followed in September.
In February, Rave Mobile Safety issued a news release announcing 90 percent of Arkansas’ 911 centers had implemented Smart911 — and that by year’s end, dispatchers across the state had handled 5,000 emergency calls supported by Smart911 data.
Todd Piett, chief product officer for Rave Mobile Safety, said that statistic could represent calls made from 5,000 different callers, each with a distinct profile, or as little as one caller with a profile making 5,000 emergency calls.
“We don’t know how much overlap there is. It represents 5,000 calls that we know we’ve delivered profiles for,” Piett said.
As he explained, when a person in Fort Smith or anywhere else the system is in place calls 911, his or her phone number is transmitted to Rave Mobile Safety’s remote data centers, where the system verifies whether a profile has been created for that number. If not, nothing happens; if so, the profile is instantly delivered to the dispatcher’s computer screen.
“It’s completely private and secure. No one can see your profile except the 911 center, and only if you called 911,” Piett said. “There are no opportunities for anyone outside the system to obtain the data.”
Brian Weindel, communications manager for Fort Smith EMS, confirmed that receipt of profiles is instantaneous, and if no profile is available, a message to that effect is also instantaneous.
Safety profiles can help tremendously when seconds matter and cell phones are used, Weindel said. Because cell phones can only be located within a 300-yard range, a profile that includes a picture of the owner’s car could help in case of an emergency on the road.
Weindel said that during the week of Feb. 24 to March 3, Fort Smith EMS received 414 calls, and 46 were from callers who had created Smart911 profiles. However, he had no data about the nature of the calls and whether the profiles helped save lives.
“Our software was made before we thought about Smart911, and it wasn’t designed to track that kind of information,” he said.
Piett said he, too, has only limited data because of the privacy controls, and anecdotes are hard to come by.
“Normally we’ve found that in the first year of deployment, about 5 to 10 percent of the population will create profiles. Then it’s 12 to 15 percent in the second year,” he said. “The only way we know of any examples of how a profile helped someone is when they voluntarily come forward.”
That is exactly what happened in connection with two emergency calls that originated in western Arkansas. Piett said in both cases, the mothers who called 911 about emergencies involving their children contacted his company.
In one case, a woman called 911 when her child ran into a grill and received a laceration on the face. In her excitement, she didn’t mention that the child had a lethal latex allergy — but because she had created a profile with this information, the dispatcher at Fort Smith EMS knew about it and alerted first responders.
In the other case, a woman known only as Robyn called 911 after her daughter’s day care center told her the child had not arrived on the school bus and they couldn’t find her. Because Robyn had created a safety profile with a picture of her daughter, the dispatcher could describe the girl to deputies while they were en route to the school.
Had school officials not ultimately found the girl, deputies would have been a big step ahead thanks to the quick availability of the picture. Audio from Robyn’s 911 call was used in a Smart911 public-service announcement.