Dec 23 2015

Alabama Municipalities Launch ‘Smart911’ System to Give First Responders More Info

Residents can voluntarily use the Smart911 database to provide emergency personnel with household backgrounds.

Two Alabama municipalities are trying to give their first responders more information about residents as they respond to 911 calls by adopting a system called “Smart 911.” The system uses a database that residents voluntarily enter data into to give emergency personnel detailed information about the households they are traveling to during a fire or other emergency.

The Smart911 system was developed by Rave Mobile Safety, which claims that 31 million Americans nationwide use the service. The system is just the latest example of state and local governments modernizing their 911 and public safety systems.

Smart911 Getting Started in Alabama Jurisdictions

Phenix City, Ala., lies partly in Russell County and partly in neighboring Lee County. That city and Russell County are around 75 miles east of the state capital, Montgomery. Last week, both municipalities launched Smart911 service.

Residents can sign up for free and use the system to voluntarily upload photos of family members and information about medical conditions, disabilities, mobility limitations, addresses — even pets first responders should look for in an emergency.

The information about the household could be valuable to first responders racing to a resident’s home following a 911 call. "Are you an all-electric home, or do you have gas going into your house? If there's a fire, first responders [such as] firefighters need to know that," Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith told local TV station WTVM.

Smith added that uploading photos of family members can be especially helpful if first responders are trying to locate missing children or others at the scene of an emergency.

"If you call 911, the dispatcher then can electronically send that picture out to all their patrol cars, so as they are actually responding to the missing child, they can actually be on the lookout as they go," he said.

According to WTVM, the information residents upload will be available to 911 dispatchers only when residents call 911 from the registered phone numbers in the database. First responders and others won't be able to access the information otherwise.

“It goes a long way in giving us information that we would need to give you the best service possible,” Smith told local TV station WRBL.

Other States Take Steps to Modernize 911 Systems

As State Tech has reported, states, cities, counties and other local agencies have been investing in new technology to improve communication with the public through 311 and 911 centers.

Indeed, Kansas announced this year that it will launch a next-generation, cloud-based 911 system by 2020. The system will allow residents to send text messages, photos and videos to 911 dispatchers. The new system will also have more redundancy built in so that calls can be routed to another public safety answering point if a tornado destroys one.

Meanwhile, some local governments are already taking steps to spruce up their 911 systems. For example, in July, Lakewood, N.J., launched a unique 911technology system.

State Tech reported that the township’s new system, provided by Avaya and dubbed iLoc8, uses WebRTC and HTML5 technology to link residents with dispatchers via a Web browser. The technology enhances location accuracy and awareness, which are some of the fallbacks of legacy 911 systems.

U.S. Marine Corps/Wikimedia Commons

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