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Suffolk police plug in to 911 callers' online safety profiles

A 911 operator at the Suffolk County Poilice

A 911 operator at the Suffolk County Poilice Department's 911 Center on Friday. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County residents can now create an online safety profile, with details ranging from their family's medical information to a description of their vehicles and pets, that can be used if they call 911 in an emergency.

Smart911, a free app available that has been used by the county's Fire Rescue and Emergency Services since 2013, will now be used by the Suffolk police department to provide officers with critical information before arriving at an emergency scene.

"When an emergency happens, seconds matter," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference Friday at police headquarters in Yaphank. "They can make the difference, in certain circumstances, between life and death. And that's why Smart911 profile … can be game changing for families."

For example, acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said the information, which can be provided online, could alert police if there is a nonverbal autistic individual in the home; if there are firearms in the location, to provide the license plates of all vehicles belonging to residents or the blood type of medically fragile individuals.

The tool, he said, could be invaluable for those with elderly parents or those with mental health issues. Often, officials said, information can slip though the cracks when residents call 911, often in a heightened state of concern.

"It provides us with a lot of information so we can respond much smarter," Cameron said Friday as he demonstrated how to input the information into the system. "It also empowers the residents of our county to assist [police] in a more efficient and better manner."

Providing the information, Cameron said, is voluntary and will be secure, available only if a resident calls 911. Use of the app, he said, is free to the public and was purchased using a federal domestic violence grant.

Fire Rescue and Emergency Services acting Commissioner Pat Beckley said more than 50,000 residents have signed up for the service, which also includes text messages to residents about potentially dangerous emergencies, such as mandatory evacuations because of a hurricane.

The Nassau County Police Department has deployed a similar Smart911 system and 12,230 have registered, said police spokesman Det. Richard Lebrun. The county also uses the app to alert seniors about weather-related emergencies, major road closures and scams targeting the elderly.

Suffolk officials Friday also announced that the police department would implement use of the Rave Guardian app for victims of domestic violence.

The app, which includes GPS technology that can alert law enforcement in the event of an emergency, will replace the in-home panic alarms the department has distributed to domestic violence victims since the 1980s.

The old system, Cameron said, relied on a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that is operated by a police radio, triggered by a garage door opener and connected through a landline phone. And while effective, Cameron said the system had operational limits, including a requirement for the transmitter to be close to the device and the need for detectives to install and remove the equipment.

"This will tell us if you need help and can provide a location if we need to respond," Cameron said.

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