Cache County residents become second in state to have access to new emergency dispatch service
By Hannah McDonald
Cache County residents are now covered by Smart911, a service that enables cell phone users to create online profiles accessible to dispatchers in an emergency.
“It allows the public to have more involvement in what’s available when an emergency happens,” said Shelley Peterson, the director of 911 communications at the Logan City Police Department, which announced the new service on Tuesday. “It’s another really good tool in the dispatch toolbox.”
In a typical 911 call made through a mobile phone, the dispatcher usually only receives a phone number and a general idea of the caller’s location. With Smart911, dispatchers receive any information registered users decide to include in their safety profiles. Users have the option to upload medical information, household information, emergency contacts and property details.
Logan is only the second city in Utah to purchase the service. Layton was the first Beehive State municipality to subscribe, beginning use of Smart911 in October 2013.
Karl Kuehn, the director of the emergency communications division in Layton, commended the program for its unique features. Among the most useful of those, he said, is the option for dispatchers to text individuals seeking emergency services.
“We actually had a gentleman last year who was thinking about harming himself,” Kuehn said. “He wouldn’t take any phone calls from the police. We tried many times. But once we were able to text him, he responded to us. We were able to text back and forth and obtain an address of where he was, and we sent him some help.”
Peterson expects the service to have similar success in Logan.
Peterson began looking at ways to bring Smart 911 to Cache County after accepting the 911 director’s job in May.
“The state of Utah was looking at possibilities to deploy it,” Peterson said. “But the funding fell through on a statewide level, so I decided to go ahead and make it work for Logan.”
Smart911 will cost the city $9,000 each year, and funded from the monthly $3 fee that individual Logan residents contribute for 911 call center and radio services.
While any resident or visitor of Logan can create a Smart911 profile, Kuehn said that Logan police would do best to focus on communities with distinct challenges. Elderly or special-needs individuals, for example, are more likely to require specific emergency services for which responders need to be prepared.
“A lot of times people will sign up because they have some special situation,” Kuehn said. “Whether they’re part of the deaf and hard of hearing community, or the elderly community, or autistic parents’ groups. The local agency can partner with those groups. That’s the way to get the most people who really need the service to be aware of it.”
While still rare in Utah, Smart911 — a service of Massachusetts-based company Rave Mobile Safety —is available in about 1,500 other U.S. municipalities. In a recent estimate, Rave Mobile chief product officer Todd Piett said that Smart 911 processes 10 percent of the 911 calls in the country.
The implementation has not gone without criticism. In Arkansas, where the program is available statewide, an investigation by Fox16 News revealed that only about 22,000 household profiles had been registered during the first three years of the $825,000-per-year service — about 2 percent of Arkansas. That meant taxpayers were footing a $125 bill for each account.
There are about 35,500 households in Cache County, according to Census data, and Logan police are urging anyone who lives, works or goes to school in the county to sign up for the service at Smart911.com.
Information in a user’s profile “can be critical” in an emergency, Peterson said.
“It really is very secure, very private,” she said, “and it’s only used when you call 911.”