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Smart911 helping save lives; enrollment encouraged

Becky Vargo • Jun 16, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Approximately 4,900 households have signed up for Smart911 since the emergency information service became available to Ottawa County residents in March 2014.

Additionally, there are more than 400 Rave Facility profiles for schools, churches, businesses, parks and municipal facilities, according to Tim Smith, executive director for the Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority. The profile includes emergency contact information, maps, floor plans, emergency plans and hazardous materials information. The residential profile includes information on the residents at that location, medical information, pets, utilities, vehicles and emergency contacts.

“This gives the dispatchers valuable information to relay to the first responders before they are on scene,” Smith said.

Profile information only comes up on the household or business if a 911 call is made from one of the registered telephone numbers, said Ottawa County’s new emergency services director, Nick Bonstell. Bonstell said he uses the data side of the program to help coordinate emergency response for things such as widespread power outages following a big storm.

When you create a profile, you can input medical information, Bonstell said. Emergency services can then “do a query to find out how many people in that area have medical needs that you need power for,” he said. This helps officials prioritize their efforts.

Another important component is the Smart911 outbound chatting feature, which they use daily, Smith said. It’s used to follow-up on dropped 911 calls. Smith said they are able to resolve 25 percent of those calls through the texting.

“This frees up law enforcement for other calls when they do not have to attempt to locate a dropped 911 caller,” Smith explained.

The most recent specific example of Smart911 saving lives happened April 22, according to Smith.

“A woman was being held at gun point by her husband when he went to Muskegon and shot two people, killing one,” Smith said. “We received a call from her mother that her daughter was in danger and the mother gave us the cellphone number. Using Smart911 Chat outbound texting, our dispatchers were texting with the hostage for over 40 minutes.

“The situation evolved into her being held in her home at gun point,” he continued. “As this was happening, we were able to give real-time information on what was happening in the home to the law enforcement team that responded.”

This “real time” information from the text messages helped law enforcement come up with a plan to end the situation, Smith said. 

“If they did not have this information from the texting, they may have knocked on the door of a man with a gun and the outcome could have been very different,” he said. “Also, the other dispatchers in the room used Smart911 Chat outbound texting to warn neighbors to either shelter in place or not go home at the time.”

Another instance of using the information from Smart911 would be in the case of a fire, such as the one at Leppink’s grocery store in Ferrysburg on Wednesday night. The information allowed authorities to contact the owner in a timely fashion.

Bonstell noted that Cass County recently used alerts through Smart911 to warn residents of flooding. Alerts can also be used to warn of something like a tornado, although Ottawa County plans to continue to use the siren system, Bonstell said.

“The world is changing,” Bonstell said.

And that’s why there is a push to get people to sign up for Smart911 as soon as possible, Bonstell said. The emergency services director said they plan to host some workshops over the next year to help people fill out the profile information for Smart911.

More information on Smart911 can be found at the Ottawa County Emergency Management Facebook page, as well by clicking on the Smart911.com link on the bottom left-hand side of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office page on the county website.

Smart911 covers all of Ottawa County, as well as all of the City of Holland, including the part that is in Allegan County.

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