June 15, 2021

Smart911 is Smart Resource for Households with Members Who Have Mental Health Concerns: Registration Is Encouraged

Providing emergency responders with vital information so they know in advance about special circumstances in a household is the idea behind Smart911 (Smart911.com). This service, which has been available in Virginia Beach since August of 2019, is especially valuable for Virginia Beach residents who have household members living with developmental disabilities or mental health challenges. Should someone in the household need to call 911 for police, fire or emergency medical help, information provided in the Smart 911 profile allows first responders to have advance notice that they may be responding to a call in which a household member is having a mental health crisis and dispatch a response appropriate to the situation.

It is important to register every phone number in a household because each Smart911 profile is tied to a phone number. For example, if four people live in the home but only one has registered for the service and that individual's phone isn't used to call for help, the information entered will not be available to dispatchers.

When residents sign up for Smart911, their Safety Profiles display on a 9-1-1 call taker's screen, allowing them to view key information such as addresses, mental health and medical information, photos, emergency contacts and more. Residents are in complete control of what information is included in their Safety Profile and can choose which information they want shared with 9-1-1.

"When families and individuals share this critical information, it enables our Department of Human Services (DHS) crisis clinicians and law enforcement partners to cater their response to someone who may be experiencing a mental health emergency," said Angela Hicks, deputy director of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. "De-escalation and diversion away from the criminal justice system are certainly the preferred outcomes in these situations. Being well-informed of individual needs and potential triggers can lead to a positive outcome for everyone involved, especially when that information is available to first responders."

Virginia's new Marcus Alert legislation has renewed attention on Smart 911 services. Named after Marcus-David Peters, a young biology teacher who was shot by Richmond police in 2018 while he was in the midst of a mental health crisis, the law requires that by July 1, 2021, every locality in Virginia establish a voluntary database to be made available to 9-1-1 call takers and Marcus Alert systems. The goal is to reduce negative outcomes and connect individuals to appropriate treatment or resources through a response appropriate to a given situation that may only involve mental health clinicians or a combination of law enforcement and clinicians.

Virginia Beach is well-positioned to be one of five initial communities statewide to launch Marcus Alert, thanks to a number of programs and services that are already in place. Among them are its ongoing use of Rave 911 Suite and Smart911. This national service not only sends emergency alerts via text, email or phone (VB Alert), but also allows individuals to provide 9-1-1 call takers and first responders with critical information through a safety and vulnerable needs profile. In addition, the City has a Mobile Co-Responder Team that responds to individuals in crisis with mental health professionals alongside law enforcement officers, a crisis stabilization center, and first responders who are trained in crisis intervention. Each locality in this initial rollout will receive $600,000 from the state to fund the initiative.

"Having information and situational awareness as we are responding supports a safe environment that enables the delivery of effective services by a qualified and compassionate team of professionals," said Deputy Chief William T. Dean with the Virginia Beach Police Department.

"Mental health awareness plays a major role in our mission to provide the best possible emergency response to the residents of Virginia Beach," said Jada Lee, director of Emergency Communications and Citizen Services. "Thanks to our use of the Rave 911 Suite and Smart911, we can go beyond compliance with Marcus Alert, ensuring that our first responders are as informed as possible arriving on the scene of any emergency so we can best serve the community."

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