Koutoulas: Smart 911 could save your life

Published 9:36 am Thursday, May 30, 2019

Did you know there is an easy and straightforward thing you can do that could potentially save the life of a family member — or yourself — in the event of an emergency?

These days, most of us have replaced our traditional landline phones with cellphones. But there is at least one major drawback of not having a landline. If you ever have to call 911 from your cell, chances are the person in the call center will have to spend valuable time figuring out where you are.

Giving an address takes seconds that could be better spent having a first responder being in route. Callers to 911 also are often naturally a bit panicked. Or it could be a small child, or a person otherwise incapable of giving their address.

Email newsletter signup

With landlines, dispatch centers have the advantage of seeing the caller’s address instantly on the dispatcher’s screen, thanks to something called enhanced 911.

But cellphones don’t work with enhanced 911. Ironically, “smart” phones aren’t as smart as your trusty old landline in this regard.

The best the dispatch center can do is get a rough approximation of your location based on cell tower strength.

What’s the solution? For Winchester and Clark County — as well as a growing number of municipalities around the country — the answer is something called Smart 911.

The Smart 911 service offers to cellphone users what enhanced 911 did for landlines — plus a lot more.

Here’s how it works.

People wishing to make use of the service register their cellphone number with the service and provide some basic information about their home. If all you do is give them your street address, that alone is a tremendous help.

Once registered, if you call 911, the dispatcher can immediately see your address, plus any other information you wish to provide in advance.

When I signed up, I filled in nearly all the information. So if I ever need to call 911, the dispatcher will instantly know where I live, some details about my house and my family, even some medical information. This information can be lifesaving in an emergency.

You can create and access your Smart 911 profile from any device with a web browser, or download an app for your smartphone.

I spoke recently with Winchester 911 Communications Supervisor Rhonda Rogers. She told me less than 1,000 Clark Countians have signed up to take advantage of Smart 911.

So I’m trying to help get the word out.

This service is one the city and county pay for, and it is for the benefit of everyone. I believe it is important everyone sign up for this service.

Privacy is a concern for most of us in the information age. One nice feature of Smart 911 is its security features.

You only provide as much information as you are comfortable sharing, and every piece of data you provide is encrypted and kept safe in a secure data center.

The only people who can access your information are dispatchers at the communications center and first responders.

Even then, these folks only have access for a limited time once you initiate a call. They cannot pull up your information at random.

Rogers mentioned another thing I found extremely helpful. If you call 911 from a cellphone but are unable to speak — such as being under duress or otherwise incapacitated — you can hang up after the dispatcher answers the call. When this happens, the dispatcher will send a text to your phone, asking if you need assistance. You can respond by text and have first responders on the way, all without ever speaking a word. You can’t initiate a text conversation just yet — that may come in a future upgrade.

One more interesting tidbit I gleaned from our conversation is our dispatchers train in using a tool at their disposal to talk a caller through administering first aid to an injured person, which happens while first responders are in route to your location, so not a precious moment is lost.

Final thought: Our 911 call center is a wonderful asset to the community. You can help them and help yourself by signing up now for Smart 911. To do so, visit www.smart911.com. If you prefer the human touch, feel free to call the dispatch center at 745-7403 and ask for Chelsea or Chad. These folks would be happy to talk you through getting set up for Smart 911. Or stop by the police station in person. You may save your own life or that of a loved one.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me.