Benton considering Smart911 system

By Wayne Bryan Published April 12, 2012 at 4:14 a.m.
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— If a Benton resident dials 911 and reports an emergency; police, fire or emergency medical personnel respond as soon as possible. Dispatchers know who you are and where you live, but they may lack other vital information to help you and also keep the first responders safe.

“Whether it is the Fire Department, the police or EMS,” Benton Fire Chief Bill Ford said, “the more information we have, the better the outcome to the call. It is as simple as that.”

In an attempt to have additional information about where emergency personnel are going and what they may encounter, Ford and Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane have been exploring a programknown as Smart911.

The two chiefs led a town meeting April 5 at the Benton Municipal Complex to gauge residents’ interest in the program.

“It is not what I want or what Chief Ford wants,” Lane said. “We want to know what you want, and if we got this service, would you use it?”

If the city makes an agreement to use the Smart911 program, residents can sign on to a website provided by Rave Mobile Safety, a private company that stores their information.

“You would be more than a number on the screen,” said Todd Miller, a vice president for public safety services with Rave, which operates Smart911. “If you dial 911 today, the dispatcher doesn’t know much more about you, other than your number and maybe your location if you are at your home phone.”

Miller said residents would create a safety profile, including a special screen for their children and pets.

“You could post a picture and description of your child,”he said. “If a child is missing, it can take a while to get a description and a picture distributed for a search, and this would speed up the process greatly.”

Other information that would be saved in a safety profile would be the layout of a family’s home, with the location of gas and power shut-offs. There could be necessary medical information that would cause special rescue needs.

“There might be oxygen kept in the house or a basement,” Ford said. “Those can be dangerous in a fire and get firefighters hurt. These are the things we need to know.

“Don’t make us have to knock your door down. Tell us where the extra key is hidden.”

“You control the information,” Todd said. “Give only the information you are comfortable with sharing.”

Attending the Benton meeting were members of the Searcy Police Department. Earlier that morning, Smart911 service officially started in Searcy, the first city in Arkansas to have the enhanced service.

At the announcement of the service in Searcy, the city’s police chief, Kyle Osborne, saidthe decision to use the Smart911 system was based on the deaf residents in the town. He said Smart911 has the option for the dispatcher to communicate with the caller via text message for the hearing impaired or those who are unable to speak during an emergency.

“We knew it wasn’t a matter of getting a call from our hardof-hearing community, but when we were going to get the next call,” said Maj. Tim Webb of the Searcy Police Department. “The Arkansas Association of the Deaf recommended Smart911.”

In Benton, the meeting was attended by more than 10 members of the community who cannot hear or speak. They questioned Todd and the chiefs about the service through a sign-language interpreter. At the end of the meeting, the residents conveyed their support for having Smart911.

Several other community members said they would feel safer if a program like Smart911 was used in Benton. They mentioned heart conditions, diabetes and mobility problems as concerns that might be eased with an enhanced system that would receive their calls for help.

Todd answered questions about the security and privacy of the system holding the safety profiles.

“We keep the information. No one at 911 has access to the information until you call 911,” he told those at the meeting. “When the dispatch gets your home number or cellphone number, then the information is instantly available.”

Todd also said that in an effort to keep the information in the system safe, Rave pays computer security firms to try and hack Rave’s system.

Lane said access to Smart911 would cost the city about $10,000, but it would not use any additional tax dollars, but would be paid by the state 911 surcharge.

He said the chiefs will now take the information gathered in the meeting to the Benton City Council. He added that some council members have expressed interest in the system, which is used in cities in 26 states.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius contributed to this article.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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