BY MICHAEL WALTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — An online service that gives Grand Traverse County 911 responders potentially vital information about callers cost taxpayers almost $19 per call in its first half-year of operation.
Jamel Anderson, director of Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch, said the price tag is a worthwhile investment for Smart911, a software service that lets citizens create online profiles that link important emergency information to their telephone numbers.
“We’ve had some situations where it’s been very helpful,” Anderson said. “I’m hoping the more people learn about it and the more widespread it gets in the state, people will be more familiar with it and use it more.”
A Smart911 profile can include detailed information about a person’s past medical history, current prescribed medications and emergency contacts. That information goes directly to dispatchers and emergency responders when they receive a call from a number linked to a Smart911 profile, but the catch is individuals need to sign up for the service online in order to generate a profile.
Lynn Pauly, of Traverse City, hadn’t generated a Smart911 profile as of mid-week, but she immediately understood the benefits of the service and said she wanted to sign up.
“If I’m home alone with my daughters and, God forbid, something happens, they could just call 911 and police would have all my information before they even get here,” Pauly said. “That’s an awesome thing.”
The service, which launched in the county in May, cost about $5,000 to install and is $14,000 annually after that. Anderson said 911 operators received 375 calls from individuals with a Smart911 profile during the last six months of 2013 and about 90 Smart911 calls in 2014 to date. Central dispatch received just shy of 44,000 total 911 calls in 2013.
The price-per-call for Smart911 breaks down to about $19 during the last six months of 2013, based on the annual service fee alone.
County Commissioner Christine Maxbauer said it won’t make sense for the county to continue Smart911 if those numbers don’t improve. She said county officials need to encourage more residents to create profiles.
“I’m not being critical of (Anderson), I’m just saying the county board needs to do a better job getting the word out, and I would be remiss if I did not include myself in that,” she said.
Anderson said central dispatch officials promoted Smart911 through presentations at local senior centers and through partnerships with rural fire departments. She encouraged more county residents to sign up for the service, which is completely confidential.
“I think it reassures people that the info is going to be utilized only if it is necessary and it will help us help them in an emergency,” she said.
The value of Smart911 should continue to grow as more counties in the state adopt the service, Anderson said. A Smart911 profile created downstate, for example, and linked to a cell phone is accessible to Grand Traverse dispatchers and could be invaluable for addressing an emergency during vacation season.