Winona County has a new way for residents to prepare for an emergency.
It’s called Smart911, and it allows citizens to create a free safety profile of their households for emergency responder use.
The safety profile can contain anything the resident would like a 911 dispatcher and first responders to know, such as medical conditions, how many people live in the home, and photos of children.
When the person calls 911, the safety profile displays immediately on the call taker’s screen, which can save valuable time in an emergency.
Though Smart911 is used in 36 states, Winona County is the first county in Minnesota to offer it. Dispatchers finished training on the system this week.
Winona County emergency manager and dispatch center supervisor Mike Peterson said the county decided to sign up for Smart911 due to the increasing number of 911 calls that are made from cellphones. Peterson said about 80 percent of 911 calls in Winona County are made from cellphones today, compared to just 40 to 50 percent in 2007.
When a person calls 911 with a cellphone, very little information about the person is available to the dispatcher, such as the name or address land lines often provide. So Smart911, by making more information available to emergency responders, can speed up response time — even if a caller can’t communicate with the dispatcher.
“When you dial 911, you are not having your best day, and even the simplest of details can be difficult to communicate,” Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack said in a statement. “Now we can approach the scene of an emergency more safely, as well as provide faster and more precise response.”
Information entered in Smart911 is only used for emergency responses, and only made available to the 911 system in the event of an emergency call. Citizens can choose what details they would like to include, and participation is optional.
The service, approved by the county board last fall, costs $8,000 per year, which comes from state 911 funds paid for by a line item on phone bills. It is completely free to citizens of Winona County.