Dispatch centers, such as the Southeast Regional Emergency Services Authority, pictured, are using the Smart911 system. Smart911 allows users to submit additional information to first responders, who can access the information during emergencies.

Dispatch centers, such as the Southeast Regional Emergency Services Authority, pictured, are using the Smart911 system. Smart911 allows users to submit additional information to first responders, who can access the information during emergencies.

Photo provided by Mike Holland

First responders urge residents to subscribe to Smart 911 service

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published February 14, 2020

METRO DETROIT — Local first responders are trying to get the word out about Smart911, a new service that allows police and fire departments to access details selected by the caller in the event of an emergency.

The information will appear on a screen at the relevant dispatch station when a call from the phone number associated with the Smart911 account comes in. The only information available will be that which the subscriber chooses to provide.

“Smart911 is a service that is free to use, and you sign up at www.smart911.com,” explained Roseville Fire Chief Mike Holland. “You go online, and what you can do is fill out as much information or as little information as you want to. You can literally just put your first name on there, or you can be as elaborate as putting your medications on there, your pets, where you keep them in the home, and then you assign your phone number to that. When you call 911 from that number, the dispatchers get the information you shared with them.”

Harper Woods Director of Public Safety Vincent Smith said his department will be implementing the new system in the near future, and he hopes to bring it online in the summer.

“Obviously, the more information we get from 911 calls, the better,” remarked Smith. “We get information as it is now, but with subscribers providing information such as their make and model of car, or details about their home, it can make a huge difference when we respond.”

The information can only be pulled up if the 911 call comes in from the number assigned to that information. It cannot be pulled up in any other circumstance. This is a measure designed for security and safety.

“We have that information for that limited time. As soon as you hang up the phone, all of that information goes away. Except while that line is open, no one else has access to that information, and no one can pull it up,” said Holland. “There have been multiple attacks trying to get into the Smart911 system, and it has never been successful. For this system to be useful, people have to be able to trust it with their information, so they take extreme measures to ensure its security.”

He added that the information is never shared with anyone else, so it will not result in telemarketing calls or businesses getting a hold of anyone’s private information.

A wide range of helpful facts can be available to first responders in the event of a crisis, such as a fire or medical emergency — something first responders say can make all the difference, especially if the person who made the call is rendered unconscious, or if family members become separated.

“It can include things like if you are allergic to a certain medication. If we are responding to a fire, we would know how many people are potentially in the home,” Holland said. “I think very clearly about my pets — they’re like my children — and I would want the fire department to know if there’s a dog or a cat. We recognize pets are more than just property — they’re part of the family. You can even add pictures of your children, so if one of them comes up missing, or if they are lost, the dispatcher has a picture ready that they can send out to police officers as a bulletin.”

“It’s all about safety,” said Smith. “There is critical information in stressful situations that you might not be able to share if you are panicking or injured. In the last few years, dispatch centers have been able to narrow down a call from a phone, but this way we get exact information from a Smart911 call. It also lets us contact loved ones in the case of emergencies.”

The information can be pulled up even if the call goes to a different department than the subscriber’s local one, so long as the other department also utilizes Smart911.

“It’s in cities and communities all across the nation,” said Holland. “A Roseville resident could be traveling in Alabama, and if you call 911 from your phone, boom, the dispatchers down there have your information and they can better give you assistance.”

Departments recognize that many people are hesitant about giving away personal information, but leaders such as Smith and Holland say it is safe, private and that it can mean the difference between life and death.

“We upgraded our 911 dispatch services about two years ago, and we see this as a continuation of that,” Smith said. “It’s an extra step we can take to ensure people get the fastest and best response possible from both fire and police.”

“Because we have better information, we can make better decisions. It just makes a lot of sense,” Holland remarked. “It’s all free, it’s all easy, and you just have to renew it once a year for no charge.”