Pa. county officials say not enough residents registered with Smart911

The county's executive 911 director urged residents to sign up, saying the program may be discontinued if there are not enough participants


Jennifer Learn-Andes
The Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — Unless more users sign up, Luzerne County 911 may consider discontinuing the Smart911 program after 2020, department Executive Director Fred Rosencrans said.

Initiated in Luzerne County in September 2011, the program allows residents to provide information about their family, pets, property and vehicles that will pop up on dispatchers’ screens if a 911 call comes in from their cellphone or landline.

Luzerne County officials are urging residents to sign up for Smart911, which provides first responders with important information about callers in case of an emergency. Officials say current low participation may lead the county to discontinue the program after next year. (Photo/Luzerne County 9-1-1 Facebook)
Luzerne County officials are urging residents to sign up for Smart911, which provides first responders with important information about callers in case of an emergency. Officials say current low participation may lead the county to discontinue the program after next year. (Photo/Luzerne County 9-1-1 Facebook)

Entry options about household members include blood types, allergies, medical conditions, disabilities, medications and primary and secondary languages. The location of gas valves and electrical panels also can be specified for commercial and residential structures.

Participants decide how much information to provide, and Rosencrans said the county has no access to the personal data unless a call from a registered phone number is received.

While the county typically receives 420,000 to 430,000 emergency and administrative calls annually, only about 4,000 have signed up for Smart911, Rosencrans said.

The program costs his department about $81,000 annually and is purchased through Rave Mobile Safety Inc.

“I’d like to see a lot more people take advantage of the program. It’s hard for me to keep justifying that much of an expense for the number of people signing up for it,” Rosencrans said.

With the budgeted funds in place, he plans to renew the program for 2020 but said he will reevaluate participation for 2021.

Most of the department’s $6.7 million budget is not part of the county general fund because it is covered by state reimbursement from a $1.65 monthly fee on all phones.

Rosencrans had initiated Smart911 because dispatchers typically know only the names and addresses when calls come in, and even that information is not available if it originates from a cell phone.

Between 70% and 80% of 911 calls now come from cell phones, and that percentage is expected to continue rising, he said.

The only information 911 receives about incoming cellphone calls is the corporate name of the cellphone carrier — such as Verizon or AT&T — and the carrier’s approximation of the caller’s location through coordinates, which are not always 100% accurate, said county 911 Data/Tech Support Manager Andrew Zahorsky.

Many mistakenly believe 911 knows the identity of cellphone callers and their home addresses, he said.

And although addresses or approximate locations are provided to 911 when calls come in, the callers may be unable to convey relevant information if they are losing consciousness, unable to speak or not thinking clearly, Rosencrans said.

To keep submitted data secure, the Smart911 website says it “utilizes the highest standards in physical and computer security technologies” and performs regular audits.

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©2019 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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