Oak Lawn switching to a new emergency communication system

By Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn will be switching over from Everbridge emergency notification system to the Smart911 system for emergency notification of residents as of Jan. 1.

The village board unanimously approved the purchase of the Smart911 software at its Nov. 13 meeting after Director of Emergency Services Diana Tousignant spoke at some length about it. She is in charge of the 911 center in the village.

The software will be integrated into the village’s emergency alerting system, taking the place of Everbridge, which, Tousignant explained, only has emergency alert capabilities. She said that residents who already have registered their phone numbers with Everbridge, which calls or sends text messages to registered phones, will be notified about how to sign up for the new system, which has other capabilities as well.

Tousignant stressed that the village will still be able to send out emergency alerts using the reverse 911 system to all residents, whether or not they are registered with either system,

She explained that those who register for the program on the Smart911 website are able to include in their profile details about medications or special needs about themselves or anyone in the household that first responders will have access to in case of emergency.

“If there is an elderly person in the house who you think should get these alerts, you can provide their information, as well as an email address that we can use to contact you to keep it updated,” said Tousignant.

She noted that residents or business owners can also include the layouts of their buildings, which also could helpful for first responders as well.

“The system is very easy to use, as you will see when you go online,” said the director.

Another advantage of Smart911 cited by Tousignant is its ability to pinpoint exactly where a user’s call is coming from, which is not always possible with cellphones because the signals triangulate against the nearest cell towers.

“It is sometimes very difficult to find people on cellphones. You could be a block away from where the signal is. But just like the ‘Find Your Phone’ app on Apple products, as long as yours is a Smart911 number, even if you are traveling, we can detect exactly where you are,” said Tousignant.

“Smart911 has been around for a while but it was frankly very expensive. But now, with the added features, and the partnership between the makers of Smart911 software and ‘“big players’ such as Apple and Google has made it easier and less expensive for the village to get it,” added Tousignant.

“In our opinion, Smart 911 will provide a more robust and user-friendly alert system than Everbridge, for comparable cost. In earlier years, Smart911 was cost-prohibitive for communities like Oak Lawn but over time their cost has come down to a level that makes it feasible,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.

“Sometimes, in an emergency, you can’t even think of your address. What excites me so much about this is, even if you can’t speak, all your information is with the 911 system. I think this will save lives,” said Mayor Sandra Bury.

“It will save lives and it has saved lives,” said Tousignant, noting that the system is already in use in some neighboring communities and across the country.

“I am sure this will be a huge improvement over Everbridge, which was affectionately known as NeverBridge,” said Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), referring to the problems with getting alerts that residents often complained about.

He sought assurances that any personal information provided to the Smart911 system would be kept private and Tousignant said it would not be publicly accessible.

“It is a privileged program. Anything going into it is just going into a 911 center. We deal with confidential medical information every day,” said Tousignant.

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