Will Chicagoans trust city with sensitive information critical to Smart911?

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Chicago’s 911 call center operates out of a building on the west side of the city. | Sun-Times file photo

Smart911 has great potential to improve the quality of Chicago’s emergency response, but the new system will only be as effective as the information residents and businesses volunteer to provide.

The question now is whether Chicagoans will trust the city with such sensitive personal information at a time when the privacy issues that have dogged Facebook have put people on edge.

On Wednesday, City Hall began the formidable task of convincing Chicagoans that the information they provide will remain encrypted and not fall into the wrong hands.

“This is a closed, redundant system that only resides on a public safety backbone. … You cannot search for someone’s information. It’s only [available] if you called during an emergency. It doesn’t touch any public network,” said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

“Whenever we think about cybersecurity, being a closed system gives us a level of confidence whenever we’re talking about who has access to this information. It’s only available for a short period of time, only to 911 call-takers whenever you call in.”

During a news conference at a 911 center “built for land-lines,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged Chicagoans to take that leap of faith — by going to http://www.smart911.com to create a so-called “safety profile.”

“This is a service you can make available to yourself if you provide the information. … This is only a successful program if people participate. They have to take the initiative — upload their information that’s relevant,” Emanuel said.

Chicago’s 911 emergency system gets 4.7 million calls each year. So far, only 3,000 people have created a safety profile.

“Your information will be protected. It has all of the privacy. But if there’s a medical condition in the family or…any other information you think is relevant — whether that’s on a mental health case, some child is impaired physically or … somebody’s a senior on different types of medication — that information saves time. Saving time saves lives,” the mayor sid.

If Chicagoans trust the city with sensitive information — such as histories of domestic violence and descriptions of abusers or former domestic partners — the call that cops dread most will be a whole lot easier.

If mental health histories are shared, disastrous outcomes — like the police shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and neighbor-bystander Bettie Jones — have a better chance of being avoided.

That’s why First Deputy Police Superintendent Anthony Riccio joined in the sales pitch for information sharing.

“It’ll be great for us to know exactly what the officers are going into. It’ll let us know who’s in that house, how many people are in that house,” Riccio said.

“It’s difficult … to walk in blindly to a situation. This will provide some context. It’ll help the callers, absolutely. But it’ll also help officers as they’re going into these different calls.”

Newly-appointed Fire Commissioner Richard Ford added: “I encourage everyone to register, provide the pertinent information that will help us help you.”

Chicago is facing a 2020 deadline to comply with what’s known as “next generation 911.”

Emanuel called the decision to overhaul Chicago’s 23-year-old 911 center a “down payment” on his plan to turn the 311 non-emergency system into a two-way communication system.

“By January 2019, OEMC will have actually been brought into the mobile technology era,” the mayor said.

“We’ll be the first city to have both 911 and 311 in a smart capacity, interactive and, more importantly, we can evolve quickly and update the way we service all of the people of Chicago.”

Noting that 75 percent of 911 calls are now made from cell phones, the mayor said: “Where the residents had gone, we had actually been in the caboose.”

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