Arkansans can choose to volunteer personal information to 911 dispatchers through a new $1 million, statewide system that will give emergency responders access to photos, medical history and other information, legislators announced Monday.
Arkansas is the first state to provide dispatchers with statewide access to the system, called Smart911, Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, said at a state Capitol news conference.
Setting up a Smart911 profile, which includes whatever information a person chooses to put on the website, is free. Cities, counties and states then pay to have access to the database.
The site - smart911.com - lets a person register and enter information about his home and the people who live there. The information can include photographs, allergies, any special needs, blood types, number of pets and vehicles, or physical descriptors such as hair color and weight.
“To enter the information into the database is the responsibility of each Arkansan,” Baker said. “This is not something where government is going in and harvesting this information. You have to go to smart911.com and enter what information you want to have in there. It’s a voluntary program.”
The software is owned by Rave Mobile Safety in Framingham, Mass.
When a person calls 911on a landline telephone, the dispatcher can see the caller’s phone number and address on a computer screen. When a cell phone is used to call 911, the dispatcher can see the phone number, the name of the cell service provider and the approximate location of the caller.
If the person has a Smart911 profile, the dispatcher can see all of the profile information the person submitted. That information can then be relayed to the emergency personnel who are responding, for instance all police in the area could have instant access to a photo of a missing child instead of an officer having to get a photo from the parents to distribute.
North Little Rock 911 operations manager Gary Gray said the system is especially useful for people who don’t have a landline telephone and only use a cell phone. He said emergency dispatchers can determine where a cell phone signal comes from within 300 meters and responders can waste time looking for the person’s exact location, for example in an apartment complex.
“Now we know an address to where that phone number is registered,” said Gray, who has been a proponent of offering Smart911 statewide for nearly a year. “We can pinpoint exactly where a person is calling from on a mobile phone.”
He said that function is particularly useful if the caller is unable to speak, such as a person having a heart attack or a frantic child. Smart911 also allows the public to contact 911 through text messaging.
Todd Miller, vice president of public safety for Rave Mobile Safety, said 70 percent of 911 calls are made by people using a cell phone.
Miller said in cities that have implemented the program, as much as 25 percent of people have registered by the second year the program has been in the area.
“Every day we hear stories about where this has helped save lives, so we are really excited about what it is going to do for the state of Arkansas and I think you’ll see tremendous results,” Miller said.
He said a benefit of the system is a dispatcher in an area of the state a person has never been to will have the same information as if you had warned the local dispatcher of medical or other issues.
“None of us really anticipate calling 911, but when we do it’s critical that we’re able to share all of the details that are pertinent for our emergency,” Miller said. “That information is going to travel with you wherever you are, not only in the state but across the United States into every location that has Smart911.”
He said the software is used by cities and counties in 24 states.
Searcy Police Department Maj. Tim Webb, speaking for the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, said his city has received positive feedback since it began using the system in April.
He said any information people provide “can have a huge impact on our response times and effectiveness,” Webb said. “Now with this new service your family can be better prepared in the event they ever need to make that call.”
Gray stressed that the information people provide cannot be searched for by dispatchers or anyone else with access to the software. The only way to get access is if a person calls 911, he said.
Miller said that software is periodically audited by an independent company to make sure it is protecting private information.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said at the news conference that he is satisfied that Rave Mobile Safety is working to keep information private.
The state paid $1 million for statewide access to the Smart911 software. It will have an ongoing cost of $400,000 to $600,000 a year, Miller said, equal to about 15 cents per Arkansan.
Rave spokeswoman Jessica Olsen said dispatchers did not have to purchase new equipment.
The $1 million came from the Unclaimed Property Proceeds Trust Fund held by state Auditor Charlie Daniels. It was authorized by Act 213 of 2012, which was signed by the governor Feb. 29.
“We felt like this was a good place to use one-time moneys, to get something like this up and running for the citizens of Arkansas,” Baker said. “In this case the main thing was to find the million dollars to get it set up.”
Auditor spokesman Janet Harris said the governor or Legislature have pulled money from that fund for other projects before.
“It’s not unheard of,” she said, referring to two other transfers totaling $2.5 million from the fund.
There is no plan in place for where the funding to pay the ongoing costs of the software will come from, Baker said.
Baker, the Senate chairman of the Budget Committee, said he doesn’t expect finding the money will be difficult once people see the benefit of the system.
“This is going to save lives. Lives will be saved next year because of this program, it’s going to be hard not to move forward with that,” Baker said.
He has reached the maximum number of terms he can serve and will not be in the Legislature past January.