Va. town's new 911 system lets residents create safety profiles for emergencies

Users can provide their home address, describe their vehicles and give information about any medical conditions, disabilities and allergies

By Jane Harper
The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — When people call 911, they’re often not in the best state of mind. They might be panicked, in pain, confused or unable to safely speak.

And if they’re making that call from a cell phone, that could be a problem. Without the help of the caller, a 911 operator only knows the person’s phone number and maybe their general location.

That is, unless the caller has signed up with Smart911 and is in an area that subscribes to the enhanced emergency call system.

The service, now available in Virginia Beach, allows users to create a safety profile filled with information that could be helpful in an emergency.

Users can give the service their home address, describe their vehicles and provide information about any medical conditions, disabilities and allergies. They also can provide details and photos for other members of their household and pets, the security codes needed to enter a home and even the names and phone numbers for emergency contacts.

It’s up to the person creating the profile to decide how much information they want to provide.

While anyone can create a profile for free — either online or through an app — the information is only visible to dispatchers in localities that subscribe to the service and only when those included in the profile call 911.

Virginia Beach is the only locality in Hampton Roads that currently offers the service, according to Stephen Williams, the city’s director of emergency communications and citizens services.

The city paid $90,000 for it, which was about the same as it was paying for another system that did not offer the extra features, Williams said.

Smart911 is currently available in 40 states and more than 1,500 municipalities across the country, including major ones like Washington D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver and New Orleans.

“These emergency situations are often the worse day of a person’s life, and the safety profile can speak for them when they might not be able to,” Williams said. “The additional information provided in a safety profile enables us to know critical details quickly and those details can help us respond faster and more efficiently and can even help during evacuations.”

©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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