Douglas County recommends registering mobile devices for better response in emergencies

By Stephen Montemayor
Lawrence Journal World – October 28, 2013

Douglas County emergency dispatchers are asking for help from residents to better pinpoint the location of 911 calls from mobile devices.

Dispatch centers can draw a 50- to 150-meter radius around a mobile call using information from the nearest cellphone tower. But getting additional information is a challenge, said Scott Ruf, Douglas County’s director of emergency communications. Typically, mobile calls reveal only the phone number and service provider.

In fall 2011, Douglas County became the first in Kansas to subscribe to a third-party service called Smart911. Residents can create a profile at, Ruf said, sharing as little information as their name and address or as much as information about vehicles they own, emergency contacts, whether a neighbor has a spare key and names and locations of bed-ridden relatives or those with special needs.

That information is made available to emergency dispatchers if they get a call from a registered mobile user. Ruf said Smart911 also offers an optional service in which details such as whether residence members need  refrigerated medication or use heart monitors is mapped for use by first responders in natural disasters.

About 7,000 Douglas County residents have created profiles, Ruf said.

At a time when concerns about surveillance by government and others are heightened, registering such personal, detailed information could be a tough sell for some. Ruf said that dispatchers with law enforcement or fire-medical personnel only share the information in profiles when a person who has registered with Smart911 calls 911, and then only while that call is active.

“You can put as little or as much information as you want in the profile,” Ruf said. “And (the profile) is managed by the citizen. … It’s not so officers can go search through and retrieve information.”

Ruf said 76 percent of all 911 calls came from mobile devices last year, a number he expects to approach 80 percent by year’s end. As mobile calls became the norm, area law enforcement began to advocate a way for residents to provide more information. The alternative can be emergency responders going door to door trying to locate a person in need in a busy neighborhood.

“Anybody with a cellphone should at least have their name and address attached so dispatch can respond to it,” said Lt. Steve Lewis, a spokesman for Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.

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