San Juan County commissioners allowed the communications authority to spend $49,000 to purchase Smart911. The program will let residents in advance provide the county's emergency dispatch with the family information online. Emergency responders can then access that information online during a 9-1-1 call.
County residents can take advantage of the software voluntarily, said Dave Ripley, the director of the communications authority.
“They only enter what they want to enter and it's completely confidential,” he said. “We don't even have access to it until they call 9-1-1. And then we can only access it for 45 minutes.”
One way people can use the software is to enter pictures of their children or relatives with Alzheimer's disease, Ripley said. If a family member then calls 9-1-1 to report a relative missing, police can automatically pull up the photographs entered into the database.
“You can give descriptions over the phone but nothing beats a photograph, especially in (a scenario) where time is of the essence,” Ripley said.
The software has been used in other states by deaf people who were able to text message with 9-1-1 call takers.
In other cases, parents have entered information into the database about where their autistic children will hide when they get nervous.
Firefighters have then used the information to pull the children from burning buildings, Ripley said.
Residents also can enter information about pets into the database.
There are more than 20 states that use the software. No other counties in New Mexico use Smart911, Ripley said.
In addition to the $49,000 to be used to buy the software, there is an annual maintenance cost of $45,000 per year for the first five years, Ripley said.
County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the communications authority can afford the software with the department's existing funds so the cost will not adversely affect other county operations.
George Duncan, the Bloomfield fire chief, welcomed the commission's decision and said it will improve safety across the county.
“We believe strongly that it is going to be a feather in our cap,” he said.