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Emergency Contact Registration Program Surpasses 10 Million

Photo via Flickr// steeleman204

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles announced a major milestone this week for the state’s Emergency Contact Information system. The number of registrations has now surpassed the 10 million mark.

“It was a deep breath of like ‘Oh my gosh,’ because it’s been a long time in the works,” said Christine Olson, president and founder of TIFF’s Initiative, To Inform Families First, which led to the creation of the Emergency Contact Information (or ECI) system.

“It has been about 9 years that the program has been part of the Florida driver’s license and we seem to grow about 1 million a year. But, to hear the number 10 million now registered was pretty amazing.”

The ECI system was born out of tragedy, following the death of Olson’s 22-year-old daughter Tiffiany in a motorcycle accident in December of 2005.

Credit Christine Olson
Christine Olson's daughter Tiffiany died in a motorcycle accident in 2005 and it took many hours for the family to be notified.

“The accident happened at 7:01 p.m. At 11:00 p.m., the local newspaper had the story in print,” Olson said. “I was watching a TV movie, probably eating a bowl of ice cream, and here this unbelievable tragedy was happening 15 minutes away and I had no idea of what was happening.”

In fact, it would take several hours before Olson would find out what happened to her daughter. After a call from her son around 11 that night, they went searching at the nearest hospital, Manatee Memorial.

No one at the hospital knew where Tiffiany was, and adding to Olson’s frustration, relatively new HIPPA privacy laws limited the staff’s ability to help.

Finally, at 1:30 in the morning, six-and-a-half hours after her daughter was killed, Highway Patrol troopers arrived at the hospital in the parking lot to inform her that Tiffany had died, that "she was gone."

“And, I thought well, like where did she go, what does that mean exactly?” Olson continued, “And, they said ‘well we presume she’s with the medical examiner. But, they’re closed; you can call them in the morning.’”

It was in Olson’s grief that she came up with the idea of emergency contact information associated driver’s licenses. With help from friends and a boost from local media coverage, she was able to present a plan to then State Rep. and now Senator Bill Galvano.

“And, he looked at it and went, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is amazing.’ He then took it to the state of Florida’s Department of [Highway Safety and] Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee,” said Olson.

The response from the state DHSMV was to begin the program as soon as possible. Press Secretary John Lucas describes how it works.

“Basically, what it does, it allows you to go into our system, register your emergency contact information. And that’s on file in our motor services database and can only be accessed in times of an emergency.”

Being able to contact a family member could provide timely life-saving medical history or at least the opportunity to say good-bye to a loved one.

In the past nine years, over 10 million people have registered for the ECI system, but millions more Florida residents have not.

Until now, getting the word out about the program primarily has been accomplished through news media and social media, and registration made available on-line. But, Lucas says the program is expanding thanks to new legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“It will require that every person that goes into a driver license or motor vehicle services office must be given the option of registering their emergency contact information when they apply for a driver license or motor vehicle registration.”

As for Christine Olson, she’s hopeful that this new policy will help a lot more people know about the Emergency Contact Information program and will get signed up, so they or their loved ones won’t have to wait as long as she did for notification.

“It makes it, I won’t say worth it, but it gives you a little bit of reward, I guess, that it is benefitting so many millions of families,” Olson said.

The Emergency Contact Information system is now available in five states, including Ohio, Colorado, Illinois, and New Jersey, and Olson’s goal is for it to be established nationwide.

Links to Florida’s Emergency Contact Information system are available, both for first time registration and to update information , by visiting the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website. Also there’s a link to ECI and more information about TIFF’s Initiative, named in honor of Tiffiany Olson, at www.informfamiliesfirst.org

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.