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Smart911 - a service that helps emergency responders find you fast

Our natural reactions to emergency situations sometime make it more difficult to obtain the help we need.

Imagine you’re awakened in the middle of the night by the smoke detector. The loud sudden noise causes a surge of adrenaline in your system, increasing your heart rate. In your panic, you trip over the family dog who is now also panicked and barking loudly. You scramble for the light and run down the hallway to find the rest of your family. They’re frightened and not sure what to do. You grab the phone while trying to find keys, your credit cards, and get everyone outside. You manage to dial 911, and when the dispatcher askes for your address, you suddenly can’t remember it.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. When we panic, or are faced with threatening situations, our bodies respond by producing large amounts of adrenaline, commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This can result in multiple sensory distortions, called Tachypsychia. These can include:

  • the feeling that everything and everyone around you is moving very slowly
  • a reduction in your ability to hear sound due to stress-responsive hormones in the inner ear
  • visual problems, i.e. losing a sense of proportion and distance, tunnel vision
  • post-event amnesia

While adrenaline can result in increases in strength and pain tolerance, which may be helpful in some emergency situations, most of the time it can make it very difficult for us to quickly relay crucial information to someone on the phone. And in some emergencies, the loss of even a few seconds can make a major difference.

That’s where Smart911 comes in.

Smart911 is a nationwide service that allows users to set up online profiles that will provide emergency dispatchers with important information about their households, workplaces, and schools. These profiles are secure and can only be accessed by dispatchers when a 911 call is made from a phone that has been linked to an online Smart911 profile. This information can also be accessed by responders who may be transporting a victim to a hospital, but the access only lasts for one hour. Users can enter as much or as little information as they wish.

Information that can be contained in the profile includes:

  • address
  • residents’ home and/or cell phone numbers
  • best entry options for the home
  • list of household residents (including pets)
  • any medical conditions or medications for the residents
  • locations of bedrooms within the home
  • pictures of the home
  • pictures of the residents
  • information on residents’ vehicles
  • instructions for shutting off the gas

This information can be used by the dispatcher if a caller is not able to give the information, if the caller is using a resident’s phone, or if the caller can’t speak or make voice contact. If nothing else, it provides a backup source of information to the dispatcher for verification purposes. While not every dispatch center in the country uses the service, the profile will follow a user as they travel, so that any center that uses the Smart911 service will have access to their profile while they are in the area. There is no fee to the user for the service; costs are covered by local emergency medical services districts. For those who may not use English as their primary language, users can create safety profiles in several languages which will be translated for the 911 personnel. It will also let the dispatcher know what type of interpreter may be required.

For our local area, Smart911 is operational in Seattle and unincorporated areas of King County.

Work is being done to implement the service county-wide. Users who do not live in a currently serviced location can still sign up and be ready when the service is active in their area. The Seattle Police Department “especially recommends this service for the deaf/hard of hearing, those with medical conditions or a disability, or for those who have caretaker or guardian responsibilities for vulnerable relatives.”

To sign up, just go to www.smart911.com. Users typically receive a reminder email every six months to make sure their profiles contain the most recent information. Smart911 does not release your email address to anyone else.

Seattle residents can also sign up for the AlertSeattle system when enrolling in Smart911; for more information on that service please refer to our earlier blog post.

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Published on March 20, 2017