The folks at Missoula County Emergency Services hope you never need to call 9-1-1.
But if you do, they’d like as much information as possible when they send help your way.
To that end, Missoula County will be the first in the state to go online with a new national database called Smart 9-1-1.
People can use the service, which launches Tuesday, to create personal and household profiles with information such as medical conditions, photos and their pets - information that would be available to dispatchers when someone calls 9-1-1.
“If folks have elderly folks in the home who might be on oxygen, we’d make sure to have those supplies,” said Chris Lounsberry, Emergency Services director. If there’s someone in the home with Alzheimer’s or autism, emergency personnel would know about those issues before going inside the house, he said.
“Or say you have a gate code, that you live up a Forest Service road behind a gate,” he said. Emergency and law enforcement personnel could get the code, and get to you that much more quickly.
Lounsberry created a profile for himself so that his staff could train on the new system. It lists which bedrooms in his home are occupied, where the gas utility shutoff is, and the fact that responders would face two very large and friendly dogs.
The service also could be useful for the hearing-impaired, he said. “We can start a text-messaging session with them.”
Although studies have shown a majority of young people believe it’s possible to text 9-1-1, it’s not, he said. However, once someone calls 9-1-1, responders can then switch to texting.
“So, somebody might be in a situation where they think someone’s breaking into the residence, and they don’t want to speak. We’ll initiate a text with them.”
At least once or twice a week, the dispatch center gets a 9-1-1 call in which no one speaks.
“Is it someone who maybe accidentally dialed 9-1-1, or someone who has a problem?” Lounsberry said. Dispatchers always err on the side of caution and send someone to the location, he said.
Smart 9-1-1, he said, could help dispatchers better distinguish accidents from true emergencies.
People can register free for Smart 9-1-1 by going to Smart911.com or on Facebook to Facebook.com/Smart911. In addition to providing medical and other information, people can upload photos, especially useful in cases in which children or elderly people go missing, Lounsberry said.
Smart 9-1-1 will cost the county an estimated $21,000 annually, he said. The county opted to go with the service from Rave Mobile Safety of Massachusetts, in part because of its privacy protections, he said.
County employees will not be able to see anyone’s profile unless that person calls 9-1-1.
“There’s no way for a county employee to go on and randomly look at citizens’ profiles,” he said.
“We think we have all the privacy concerns covered as best we can,” he said. “There’s so much benefit that it just outweighs that.”