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True or false? If you call 911 from a cell phone, the dispatcher can pinpoint your exact location before you ever say a word.
If you said true, you’re operating under a common misconception 911 is privy to far more of your personal information than they really are. In reality, a dispatcher can see the number you’re calling from and, in the case of a cell phone, can access your approximate location, which means seeing about a 1,000-yard radius of where you’re actually located.
One can guess why this might hinder emergency response time, especially in situations like domestic violence where a caller may not be able to safely speak.
A company called Smart911 is working to fix that by allowing individuals to create an online safety profile tied to their cell phone or home number. The profile is then only accessible by 911 operators.
Take a recent example in Michigan where 911 operators received a cell phone call where the only discernable sound on the other end was coughing and choking. Tracking information showed the call was coming from the middle of a nearby lake. When the caller’s Smart911 safety profile popped up, dispatchers received the exact address. Emergency responders arrived to find a home on fire with the caller trapped inside.
“It’s estimated this saved 11 minutes of response time,” says Katharine Dahl, director of marketing for Rave Mobile Safety, the company behind Smart911.
Making Its Way Across the Country
Currently, the reach of Smart911 isn’t expansive—its reach is less than 5 percent of the municipalities in the U.S. Some 32 million people have access, though that’s currently just 10 percent of the population. Three states, however—Michigan, Delaware and Arkansas—are 100 percent covered.
There’s no charge to create a free safety profile online, which can be done even if Smart911 isn’t offered in your area. If you visit an area where Smart911 is offered and call 911 from your cell phone, an operator may still be helped by some of the information you provide, such as emergency contacts and medical history.
What Your Profile Tells Operators
The information you provide in your online safety profile is up to you, but can include:
- Your home address
- The number of people in your home and their ages
- Any medical conditions or allergies you or the other members of your family may have
- The number and type of pets in your home
- The details and layout of your home, including where the exits are. You can also include a photo of your home
- Any history of domestic violence or weapons that are in the home
- Emergency contacts that a 911 operator can contact for the caller
Other Protections for Survivors
The profile is accessible only through a secure log-in using an email address and password, adding an extra layer of security should someone want to keep the information private.
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The safety profile also indicates if the caller would like to receive a text if he or she hangs up immediately after calling. This might be someone who is in an unsafe situation or is unable to speak for some other reason, says Dahl.
In addition, you can also indicate a pin number or secret phrase in the “Notes” section of your profile that can identify to the 911 operator that you are the person listed in the profile (in the instance of, say, an abuser trying to call 911 and cancel an emergency response enroute). A secret phrase, like, “Is Suzy available?” or “I’d like to cancel my dentist appointment for tomorrow” could indicate to an operator that you’re in danger and need help, without tipping off an abuser who may overhear.
To see if Smart911 is available in your area, visit their website and click on “Find Services in Your Area” under the “How It Works” tab. You can still create a free profile even if services aren’t yet offered in your community.
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