A town hall meeting led by Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane and Fire Chief Bill Ford was held Thursday night to present residents a software program titled "Smart911" and to obtain feedback about the system that Lane has been researching to improve the effectiveness of the current 911 response system in Benton.
At the heart of the system is a database of information that appears on the 911 dispatcher's computer screen when a call is placed to the response center. Currently, the information available to dispatchers is limited to the telephone number of the caller and perhaps the origin of the call. With the "Smart911" system, the information will be much more in-depth and useful for the dispatcher.
The difference between current systems and the software presented to the public is that the information in the proposed system is controlled by the resident. For example, each resident may log on to the "Smart911" website and enter only the information the individual would want to be available in case of a call to 911. The individual adds information to a personal profile that includes categories such as family information, health and rescue data, household details and if there are multiple entry points to the individuals residence.
Todd Miller, vice president of public safety services for Rave Mobile Safety, said the database also can include information such as the age of any resident in the home and whether there are complicating medical conditions such as autism, diabetes, heart conditions and ambulatory issues. "This system is particularly effective for those who are deaf or hard of hearing," said Miller. The system has a built in SMS text messaging system for those who specify they would require communication to be in text form. Rave Mobile Safety developed the software program which is now in use in 25 states.
Ford told the group, "We are in an information age. The more information we can get on calls we receive has a direct correlation with a positive outcome. We know what we will need before we leave on a call, instead of finding out when we get there." Ford went on to say this same statement would hold true whether the call was for a fire, a police emergency or for a medical need that required dispatching an ambulance.
Miller explained that the system is free to city residents and is funded via a 911 surtax currently being collected. "There is no need for an additional tax or fee for this system to be used," said Miller.
Lane said it is important to hear from residents regarding the system because "we need to be good stewards of our money. We want to know if residents will use the system before we allocate money toward it."
Lane said he has had discussions with other officials and groups about the system and thus far all responses have been positive. Lane said he would have to present the request for the system to the Benton City Council before anything else could be done.
Security regarding the information in the database was discussed extensively during the town hall meeting. Miller told the group that the information in the database can be seen only at the moment the 911 call is initiated by a caller. Access to the database by any individual is not permitted or possible at any other time. Miller explained that the database has built-in security measure to prevent access to occur and that only Rave Mobile Safety has the ability to change the software.
Dispatchers and officials with local 911 services have "read-only" access.
Benton resident Barbara Nix was in the audience and asked Miller and Lane, "Why would we not want this in our community? It is a great program that will greatly enhance the safety of our citizens."
Other residents present agreed. There were no comments opposing the system.
Miller pointed out that the system is nationwide and that if residents create a personal profile in the database and are involved in an accident in a town that uses the "Smart911" system, the information on the profile would be seen by the dispatcher if a 911 call were placed.
"The key to this system is that it is mobile and the only information seen is that which the individual wants to be seen. Nothing more," Miller said.