The District of Columbia got a little bit safer on Thursday thanks to the deployment of a new, enhanced 911 system.
Speaking at a launch event hosted by the Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the availability of Smart911 throughout the city.
Spearheaded by the District’s Office of Unified Communications, Smart911 enables citizens to register and create a public safety profile complete with photos of family members, medical information, floor plans, pets, and disabilities that can be made available to emergency responders when a 911 emergency call is made.
Developed by Framingham, Mass.-based Rave Mobile Safety, Smart911 is a voluntary, nationwide database that is made available to local emergency response organizations that purchase access. When a 911 call is made by somebody who has registered and provided information to Smart911, the local 911 dispatchers are automatically provided that person’s public safety profile, alerting responders to potentially life-saving information before they arrive on scene.
“It could be a medical condition, it could be photos of family members, or information about hearing-impaired or autistic members of a household,” said Todd Piett, chief product officer at Rave Mobile Safety.
Smart911 will transform the care that we can provide.” – Dr. Joseph Wright, Children’s National Medical Center
“In addition, mobile devices make up about 70% of 911 calls today, but unlike on television 911 dispatchers are not provided a pinpoint address associated with your mobile phone,” said Piett. “So something as simple as knowing that the caller is located in a fourth floor apartment in a particular building could be a life-saving difference in time.”
“This will put a face to the calls that come in through 911,” said Mayor Gray. “This is an amazing new [capability] that will put information right at the fingertips of 911 call takers.”
The District’s 911 center processes more than 1.4 million 911 calls per year. But a call to 911 doesn’t automatically mean that the dispatcher is familiar with your location.
For example, when a person dials 911 from a landline, mobile phone or VoIP telephone, the call is directed to the closest Public Service Answering Point (PSAP). But a specific address is usually only registered with landline phones. Mobile calls are routed through the nearest cell tower, providing 911 dispatchers with only general location information.
“One of the first concerns I heard from residents in the District was that when they dial 911 from their cell phones they sometimes get [answered by dispatchers in] Montgomery County, M.D.,” said Jennifer Greene, director of the District’s Office of Unified Communications. This is especially true for residents that live along the District’s borders with Maryland and Virginia, she said. With Smart911, “we’ll at least be able to see where those cell phones are registered from.”
Washington, D.C. is currently using a Mobile Technology Lab (MTL) housed in a 40-foot commercial bus to help register District residents for the program. The bus is equipped with WiFi connectivity and eight workstations, and can process about 60 registrations per hour.
The MTL was designed in 2011 as part of the District’s campaign to bridge the digital divide by expanding technology resources in underserved areas throughout the city. It will now bring Smart911 registration services to those same communities.
The Washington Metropolitan Police and Fire Departments view Smart911 as a critical tool for eliminating the uncertainty and confusion that often arises during emergency 911 calls. Assistant Police Chief Patrick Burke said one police officer is killed in the line of duty every 53 hours in the U.S. and much of that loss is a result of “officers not knowing what they’re walking in to.”
Smart911 would enable police officers to respond to emergency calls armed with information on floor plans, criminal backgrounds on individuals and even dogs that might be trained to attack officers in uniform, said Burke.
Breaking Gov has also learned that officials in Washington, D.C. are interested in expanding the application’s ability to alert law enforcement when a suspect in a crime is brought into the hospital by emergency medical responders.
Burke, who has an 11-year-old nephew with severe autism, added that Smart911 is also an added safety measure for the public. “I know the trepidation that any person has with a relative with a disability [like autism] when they have to call the police and be concerned about the police actually harming their loved one because they don’t know that the person has some type of disability,” said Burke.
Dr. Joseph Wright, the senior vice president of the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s National Medical Center, said the need for advance information on incoming patients is urgent, particularly for children.
The so-called “golden hour” during which it is imperative to provide adults with the proper emergency medical care in order to save their lives is reduced to 30 minutes in children, said Wright. Children’s National Medical Center sees more than 100,000 children each year, and many of those children arrive via 911 emergency services.
Smart911 will “transform the care that we can provide,” said Wright, by giving emergency room doctors advanced warning of specific medical conditions before a patient arrives.
Citizens can register for Smart911 and find out if it is available in their location by visiting www.smart911.com.