Fairfax County upgrades 911 calls to help vulnerable residents, first responders

People using 911 in Fairfax County can now provide medical details and other information to help first responders know more about a situation before they arrive.

The county rolled out the change on July 1, allowing people to sign up ahead of time with information about a resident who has a special need or needs ranging from anything from Alzheimer’s to autism.

“It could make the difference between someone being saved and not saved,” 911 systems administrator Steve McMurrer said.

A person with an iPhone or Android phone can sign up for the free service by clicking on the Emergency Health Profile section on the county’s Department of Public Safety Communications web page. It will direct them to emergencyprofile.org, and that information is also shared with other 911 centers, McMurrer said.

In a person’s emergency profile under a section for additional medical notes or relevant information, people can list if they’re wheelchair-bound, blind, or have any other condition that first responders might need to be aware of.

A person’s emergency contact information, allergies, address, and other details can also be listed for a caller.

“Any first responder prefers to have more information,” McMurrer said.

The county’s new system relies on RapidSOS, which has been servicing the county with improved location for mobile 911 calls. It doesn’t charge emergency providers but instead device and app makers, according to a TechCrunch article.

Tony Bash, who represents Springfield District on the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging, noted it could help a person who is having a heart attack or is deaf, blind, or in a wheelchair. He also said a child with a disability might confront a police officer when they hear a siren, so the information can be vital to help first responders understand and address a situation.

Without the additional information, emergency responses can lead to injuries and deaths of people in need of help.

State officials noted that a lack of training and awareness can escalate situations for people with disabilities. State agencies for criminal justice, disabilities, and behavioral health partnered with Niagara University in 2017 to introduce additional law enforcement training.

“This is quite possibly the biggest revolutionary change in technology that we’ve witnessed in 50 years,” Eddie Reyes, director at the Prince William County Department of Public Safety Communications, said in a promotional video for RapidSOS.

Fairfax County officials have introduced elements of the service previously, but they were scattered across a variety of places:

  • The Yellow Dot Program involves putting information on a card that people can take with them in their vehicles to show special medical needs.
  • The File of Life, which can be placed on refrigerators, shares similar information.
  • A functional needs registry with the Office of Emergency Management’s Fairfax Alerts has a database with information like if a person needs oxygen or an elevator, but the information can be outdated and was unavailable to the 911 center.

“It’s much, much better than what we have now,” Bash said of the new 911 capabilities. He described previous information on file for emergency responders as 20th-century solutions.

The county had previously looked at using Smart911, but its estimated cost in 2015 was $125,000 per year and $300,000 annually in 2019.

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