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PennDOT website stores drivers' emergency contact information

| Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 11:54 p.m.
Paramedic Josh Stuart shows off his driver's license on November 16, 2012 inside the Medical Rescue Team South Authority in Mount Lebanon where he works. Stuart is one of about 700 people who signed up for a new PennDOT program that will attach emergency contact information to his driver's license online. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When paramedic Josh Stuart learned of an online method for police officers to quickly track down his loved ones in an emergency, he didn't think twice about signing up.

“I'm a firm believer that any information is better than none at all,” said Stuart, a paramedic with Medical Rescue Team South Authority, based in Mt. Lebanon, who has more than 20 years of experience.

“I've been on too many cases where even public safety people thought they'll know me, they'll know enough about me. But we keep some things to ourselves. It's good to have an additional route.”

This month, PennDOT started a program that allows drivers to upload emergency contact information to a database that police can access. About 700 people statewide have added their information since the service started Nov. 9, PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight said.

“If you're in a situation where you can't speak, the police can easily access your emergency contact information,” she said. “It will save time.”

Police in Ross, Mt. Lebanon and Munhall posted information about the program to their departments' Facebook pages and are urging residents to sign up.

Participants log in via PennDOT's secure drivers services web page, using their driver's license number, last four digits of their Social Security number and birthdate.

They then are taken to another page where they can list the name, address, email address and cell, home and work phone numbers for two contacts, such as a spouse, sibling or child.

“If we were able to enter someone's information in and pull up the emergency contacts they provided, that would be something that would be very beneficial,” Mt. Lebanon police Lt. Aaron Lauth said. “We are able to track down some, but not always as timely as we would like it to be.”

Lauth said officers could use the service when they respond to crashes or when they find people who have died in their homes and don't have relatives nearby.

“It can prove difficult to find someone quickly,” Lauth said. “You don't think of it happening, but it's definitely tough to notify next of kin if there's no relatives around.”

As more people get rid of their landline phones, it can become difficult to reach family members in an emergency, Ross police Detective Brian Kohlhepp said.

“The first thing that comes to mind is a car accident,” Kohlhepp said. “We can contact loved ones to let them know what happened so they can get to the hospital to be with their loved ones.”

Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey, president of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, forwarded information on the PennDOT program to local departments and said he plans to upload his emergency contacts into the database.

“I had a family member several years ago involved in a very bad accident,” Mackey said. “Fortunately, a friend knew where I worked. I was imagining if my sister's friend didn't know that, how would anybody get hold of me? I think it's a really good thing.”

Stuart, who works nights on the weekends, said he often encounters patients who are unable to communicate important information. Paramedics will have to ask police officers to look for the emergency contact information, but he said he still thinks it will help.

“It's a good idea,” Stuart said. “It's just like a medical alert bracelet. It's another tool to help the patient, and even to help the family.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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