MUSKEGON, Mich. – Muskegon and Montcalm Counties’ Central Dispatch launched a new emergency feature called “Smart911.” It’s an online profile anyone can set up for free, that automatically shares provided information to dispatchers that would normally take minutes to gather over the phone.
With a radio in one ear, and a person calling for help in the other, 911 dispatchers are the definition of multi-tasking.
Beginning Tuesday, Montcalm and Muskegon Central Dispatch are now two of 13 Michigan counties using Smart911; including Ottawa, Ionia, Barry, and Van Buren counties in West Michigan.
“We get very limited information from a cell phone: just gives us the phone number maybe the cell phone provider,” said Nick Martin, Muskegon Central Dispatch operations manager. “All of this enhanced information now pops up with Smart 911.”
Anyone can start a profile and register at Smart911.com. Users can provide as much or as little information as they like. Then, during an emergency call in a Smart911 county, the dispatcher will see the user’s information automatically.
A Smart911 profile has information like the user’s address, descriptions of their home, allergies, a picture of themselves or their pet—all facts that emergency responders would have immediately. Martin said having this information upfront could shave minutes off response time.
“It’s those anomalies where somebody calls 911 and you can hear a smoke detector going off in the background but you’re not able to talk to anyone,” said Martin. “Obviously those first few minutes could be critical in whether this person is going to make it out of the fire or not.”
One year ago Tuesday, Ottawa County Central Dispatch launched Smart911. Their director Tim Smith said recently the Smart911 text feature saved a life: it was a domestic violence emergency. When that caller could not speak, the dispatcher started texting the Smart911 caller and got the information they needed there.
“This is just a tool that provides, in some of the rare circumstances, it provides a very vital link of information to the dispatchers,” said Martin.
Smart911 allows the dispatchers to text the 911 caller during the call, or if the call disconnects. It’s a 911 enhancement that is free and confidential.
“We have no access to that information, so they can be comfortable knowing that it is secure, it is confidential, and the information is only accessed when they dial 911 and need help,” said Martin.
Martin said Smart911 will cost them about $12,000 annually. State funding and the Muskegon Central Dispatch budget pays for the program, and costs taxpayers nothing additional.