ARKADELPHIA, Ark. – State officials were excited to announce that Arkansas was the first in the nation to launch Smart911 statewide back in 2012. Now, three years into its contract with Rave Mobile Safety, Fox16 Investigates to take a look at the sign up numbers and issues counties have had with getting on the system to determine if officials still feel Smart911 was a smart investment.
It’s taken Clark County Judge Ron Daniell nearly a year to get Smart911 installed in his updated PSAP, or public safety answering point.
“We finally got it up and running after a long period of time,” Daniell said.
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request show Daniell asking for assistance on several occasions from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and Rave Mobile, which at the time didn’t have techs onsite in Arkansas.
“We were kind of left waiting down there. When we got the PSAP updated, then we were sure out of luck then,” Daniell said. “They had all left the state. They wanted to try and tell you how to install the system over the phone, but we don’t have an IT person and it was a bad situation.”
Back in 2012, lawmakers boasted Arkansas was the first to have Smart911 statewide, contracting with Rave Mobile Safety for users to sign up for online profiles. Users can link their cell phones and address, and they can even include medical conditions, photos of their homes, family members and even pets.
“My dad just turned 87 and we lost my mother last year,” Daniell said of who he thought could use the system. “He’s out there by himself, so I’m going to hook him up.”
The system costs $825,000 a year, but at this point signs ups have fallen short.
“We do pay a lot for this service , and we are starting an outreach and education program to the people,” said State Representative Scott Baltz (D-Jonesboro). “We would like to see those numbers higher, and the company is aware of that.”
Rep. Baltz is the co-chair of the 911 Blue Ribbon Committee, and he pushed for the Rave Panic Button application for schools. It’s a $950,000 addition to the Smart911 system.
“Yes, there are issues with it but it’s working. It’s [the panic button] already assisted in saving lives,” he said.
While just five school districts remain offline for the Panic Button service two months past the deadline, according to Baltz, farm more folks have failed to sign up for Smart911. According to Baltz, about eight of the 110 PSAPS still aren’t hooked up to the software three years later.
According to data from Rave Mobile Safety, around 22,000 household profiles have been created since 2013. That’s less than two percent of Arkansas households, based on Census data. That puts the average price of each profile at about $125 apiece at this point. The state agreed to a five year contract, meaning the program would come to an end unless re-negotiated in 2018.
“We need more participation because we’re going to have to look at that really hard at the end of the contract to determine what’s going to happen with that,” Baltz said.
“If it’s costing $68,000 a month and only serving 2% of the population, does that come down to hard decision time?” this reporter asked. “Do we have to evaluate if the system is worth the cost?”
“It does, but then again, what’s the cost of a life?” Baltz said.
He also conceded that Rave Mobile Safety had admitted it could have done more to increase signs ups on the front end.
“They acknowledge that there should have been more outreach on their end,” he said. “And we’re working on those programs to get more people to sign up now. It’s in the early stages, but they are committed to that.”
According to Rave Mobile Safety more than 50,000 phone calls have come through the Smart911 system where individuals were assisted by having a profile in place.
But part of the problem with Smart911 is that many Arkansans are reluctant to share personal information online, wondering how it will be used. That’s a chief issue Judge Daniell said he has run into in trying to get people participating in Smart911 in Clark County.
“We don’t want their sensitive information. In the event of an emergency that’s all this is used for,” Baltz said. “It will only be used in the case of an emergency to help first responders assist you. And that information is only visible for a brief window of time so that it can be communicated to those who are on the way to respond.
“We have to let people know you don’t have to fill out every question,” Daniell said. “And that you can provide as much or as little information as you want. That’s important for folks to know that.”
Daniell said he skipped some questions himself, because he didn’t feel comfortable with it being saved in the system.
“I just skipped over what kind of car you drive, this and that,” he said.
And while that is an option people can use, Baltz said there are legitimate reasons why first responders may need to know the make and model of your vehicle.
“If you call from your cell phone and it shows you at your address and we know what type of car you drive, we can confirm that you should be home,” he said. “Or if you’re calling because of an auto accident, we can know to be on the lookout for a car that matches the description of your current vehicle.”
Clark County’s 911 coordinator is still waiting to see how 911 impacts his area.
“Do you feel like you’re getting a good bang for the buck on this system and what the county get s out of it?” this reporter asked.
“We don’t know yet. We really don’t know until we see how many sign up,” he said.
But according to Rave Mobile Safety, it doesn’t track user profiles by ZIP code or even geographic region to know who is signing up where.
“Is it kind of difficult to know how successful the program is and your outreach is if you don’t have those numbers?” we followed up with Robinson.
“Very difficult, you really don’t have any feedback,” Robinson said, noting his office worked to sign up people at the county fair and other community events, but he isn’t sure someone’s signed up unless their profile populates in the system.
“That is something we’re working on,” Baltz said of the lack of data available. “We do think that’s something we need to have a better idea of, to know where people are signing up.”
At this point, Judge Daniell is working to recruit more folks in the county to answer the call for sign-ups.
“If you can hit 10-20 percent you would be doing pretty good,” he said.
Daniell figures with sign-ups in the state coming in at just two percent, 20 percent of his county would put him ahead of the pack. That leaves some to wonder if the state’s help line is in need of a lifeline to help save others.
DO YOU NEED FOX16 INVESTIGATES?
Fox16 Investigates is committed to uncovering truth and problems people face across Arkansas. If you have a story that needs to be investigated, call Investigative Reporter Marci Manley on the Investigations Tipline at (501) 340-4448 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org