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SPOTLIGHT
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Douglas County first to use emergency info system

Published on -8/2/2012, 3:25 PM

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Douglas County is the first in Kansas to use a national safety database designed to help emergency dispatchers more quickly find people who use cellphones to make 911 calls, county officials said Wednesday.

Under the system, called Smart911, emergency dispatchers can access personal information that would help locate the caller. Unlike landlines, which show the address of the caller, cellphone calls display only the number and wireless carrier. Dispatchers can locate the tower where the call was placed, but not an exact location for the caller.

"Often we have to do a lot of research to figure out where they are or who they are," said Scott Ruf, director of Douglas County Emergency Communications.

With Smart911, residents voluntarily submit information, including cellphone numbers, to the national database. Dispatchers can access that database only after a 911 call, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/M61Vyk ).

"It's another resource for us," Ruf said. "It will make us more effective and efficient in delivering emergency services to people who need it."

Smart911 is offered through Rave Mobile Safety, a Massachusetts-based company that partnered with the University of Kansas on its campus alert system.

"I hope that other counties will soon follow to offer enhanced response so it can be available throughout Kansas," said State Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence.

Residents can register at a website, www.smart911.com, and add as much information as they want. They also can manage their information through the online account.

Ruf said the information becomes available to dispatchers only during 911 calls from a registered phone, so the information can't be used by law enforcement for other things. In a large 911 emergency, dispatchers would be able to provide information to officers, medics and firefighters.

Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern said public safety officials have worked with Douglas County Senior Services and Independence Inc. to encourage their clients to use the system.

"In their profile, a citizen can tell us who lives in their house, what their medical conditions may be, if they have pets and where children's bedroom locations are," McGovern said. "If a child is missing, parents can have their current photo and description in their profile, allowing officers to have that photo in hand much faster.

"In an emergency, more information means greater effectiveness, saving invaluable time and lives," he said.

Douglas County will pay about $18,000 a year for the service, with the funds coming from a 911 fee on phone bills collected by the state, which reimburses most of the revenue to counties.

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