Virginia community's residents can register their physical and mental health information with 911

The RapidSOS web-based tool will enable responders to connect patients with the best resources


Jessica Nolte
Daily Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Newport News citizens can register for a voluntary database that will give first responders physical and mental health information when they call 911 from a registered phone number.

The city started using the web-based tool — RapidSOS — about six months ago. The police department started promoting the tool just before a state law requiring every city and county in Virginia to offer a voluntary database and Marcus alert system to provide mental health information and emergency contact information for response to an emergency or crisis.

At the Newport News 911 call center, dispatchers give assistance and work at a number of monitors.
At the Newport News 911 call center, dispatchers give assistance and work at a number of monitors. (MCT Photo/Judith Lowery)

The law was named after Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old high school biology teacher who was killed by a police officer in 2018 in Richmond while he was experiencing a mental health crisis. It provides the framework for a phased approach for mental health professionals to respond to calls for services that involve a mental or behavioral health crisis while minimizing the role law enforcement takes in those calls.

“At the end of the day, it’s putting the right resources with the problem. It’s not always a police problem,” said Newport News Assistant Chief Brandon Creswell. “There are all kinds of things we’re dealing with day in and day out that don’t require a gun and a badge.”

The police department hired two people from the city’s Department of Human Services to respond with officers for certain calls such as those involving child or adult protective services. The department also hired two civilians for a domestic violence team.

“We can’t give all of our officers all the training and experience that they need for every situation out there,” Creswell said. “We’re bringing in professionals that deal with this day in and day out and having them respond with the officers to give us an added tool and resource to address the multitude of situations that our officers respond to.”

The confidential tool asks users to provide information about significant medical or mental health conditions, communicable diseases, allergies and special medical equipment needs. Residents can also provide additional information about their residence if it’s in a location that may be difficult for first responders to locate.

“When people call 911, they’re in crisis, so they’re excited, they’re sometimes distraught — yelling, screaming,” said 911 manager Laura McCartney.

Dispatchers will still ask all of the questions they usually do but the tool will provide additional information the caller may not think to share in the moment.

Users must be at least 16 and can only register themselves or those for whom they’re legal guardians.

Information provided is maintained by the Emergency Health Profile Association and dispatchers and first responders only have access to it when the phone number attached to the profile calls 911. The emergency response platform is used by more than 4,800 public safety departments around the world. The tool’s terms of service say it can also provide dispatchers with the precise geolocation of the phone making the call if the number is registered.

“In our line of work, time is of the essence. If we already know what we’re dealing with, we might be able to get additional resources there beforehand to get the citizens what they need,” Creswell said.

People who would like to sign up for the free program can create a profile at emergencyprofile.org.

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(c) 2021 Daily Press. 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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