City officials announced on Monday that Lexington will participate in Smart 911, an online database that gives police and firefighters instant access to detailed information that could help save lives.
Lexington residents can sign up for the free service online. Mayor Jim Gray, Police Chief Ronnie Bastin, interim Fire Chief Keith Jackson and Enhanced 911 director David Lucas unveiled the system at a news conference Monday and encouraged residents to sign up and to spread the word.
Smart 911 works much like a social networking Web site; but rather than telling your friends, family or followers about your hobbies and interests, you tell emergency officials about special medical needs and how firefighters can most easily reach your home's gas valve and electric box.
The site asks for several details, including the location of your bedrooms, any pets you own and the number of people who live in your home and their ages and weights. You can upload a picture of yourself and your family, so first responders will know who to look for.
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The idea is to give first responders as much information as possible in case crews need to rescue you at home.
The service, which will cost the city $74,000 a year, will be taken from E-911's existing operating budget, Lucas said.
Bastin said the additional information provided by Smart 911 would be beneficial to police officers, who operate "on limited information in most cases."
Jackson agreed, speaking on behalf of paramedics who don't always know of existing medical problems and firefighters who often have to search smoke-filled homes.
"More information provides us more opportunity to pre-plan and be prepared on our arrival," Jackson said. "The more information that we have, the better service we will be able to provide."
Lucas said the service will also benefit 911 call takers.
When a call comes in from a phone number that has been registered with Smart 911, a box pops up on the call taker's computer screen. He or she can click on that box to see the additional information and relay it to police or firefighters responding to the call.
Other features of Smart 911 include "text chat" with cellphone users — a first in Lexington — that could be handy to the hard of hearing or those who cannot speak. Dispatchers also can send a signal to cellphones to find a caller's approximate location, which pops up in an on-screen map.
"If someone is abducted or in a closet and cannot speak to us, we can still find their location as long as the phone is powered up," Lucas said.
Lucas said people who would benefit most from the system are those who have unique medical needs — such as drug allergies or dementia — and people who use only cellphone service and do not have a land line.
Users can share as much or as little personal information as they wish; however, phone numbers are required. Only certified emergency dispatchers and responders have access to the information, officials said.
To sign up for the service, go to Smart911.com/lexington.