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City: Smart 911 Could Save Lives but Sign-Up Lagging

Smart 911 was rolled out last September to streamline the emergency call-taking process

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    City: Smart 911 Could Save Lives but Sign-Up Lagging

    The city of Chicago hoped residents would voluntarily submit some of their most sensitive information, including medications, health histories and known stalkers, all in the event of an emergency.

     

    (Published Wednesday, April 17, 2019)

    The city of Chicago hoped residents would voluntarily submit some of their most sensitive information, including medications, health histories and known stalkers, all in the event of an emergency. 

    But about six months into the program, NBC 5 News has found very few Chicagoans have.

    Smart 911 was rolled out last September to streamline the emergency call-taking process. The idea is for Chicagoans to fill out “safety profiles” with information that is crucial to dispatchers before needing to call 911. 

    In a city of 2.6 million people, about 11,000 people have signed up, officials at the Office of Emergency Management and Communication said. They are urging Chicagoans to sign up for the free program. 

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    “The more people sign up, the more lives we can save,” said Zachary Williams, OEMC’s Director of Information Systems. 

    Here’s how the program works: 

    Chicagoans can create their profiles by visiting Smart911.com. Once there, they can fill out as much or as little information as they are comfortable providing, including addresses, phone numbers, medical and mental health conditions, family members, pets, etc.

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    If a person with a safety profile ever calls 911 from the phone number associated with the account, that pre-loaded information will be available to dispatchers immediately. 

    “Every second counts in an emergency. What this program does is shave off time,” said Chicago dispatcher Andrew Johnson. 

    The city received 4.5 million 911 calls last year. Officials said 80 percent of those calls came from cell phones. 

    “Although we get an exact location with landlines, we don’t get an exact location when you’re calling from a cell phone,” said Williams. “At best, we’re getting a block range. And at worst, we could be getting a block range that’s five blocks away.” 

    Smart 911 profiles allow callers to identify their home address, as well as other locations they visit frequently. Residents can also detail that they speak another language or are deaf or hard of hearing, which can save dispatchers time finding a translator or immediately initiating text conversations. 

    The city has fine-tuned its SMS texting capability with callers from mobile phones, which dispatchers said has been invaluable in hostage and domestic situations. 

    “We’ve had almost 200 different police responses based on our SMS texting alone since September,” Williams said. 

    In addition to saving precious time in an event of an emergency, officials said Smart 911 profiles also allow call takers to dispatch much-needed information to first responders. 

    For example, if someone in a home struggles with mental or behavioral health issues, that information can be communicated to responding police officers, who can work to de-escalate the situation and potentially avoid a deadly conflict. 

    “It changes the pattern of the call,” Williams said. “When every second counts, you don’t know what frame of mind you’re going to be in…and often times, first responders don’t know what they’re walking into.” 

    The city has invested $3 million a year on Smart 911, according to Williams. He said Chicagoans might be hesitant to provide such personal information to the city, but OEMC stressed that privacy is protected. 

    Information is not searchable to dispatchers and is only available if 911 is dialed from a phone number registered to a certain profile. OEMC also said profiles are only available to dispatchers for 30 minutes from the start of the call.

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