When an individual is believed in danger and cannot be located, cell phone technology sometimes could result in help arriving in time.
But having to wait for a court order to receive cell phone data can mean help comes too late.
The situation has happened in various locations, Jennifer Estes, Loudon County 911 director, said.
State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, have sponsored a bill that will allow Tennessee's 911 operators to get information from wireless telephone providers without a lengthy wait. The bill requires wireless providers to "ping" the victim's cell phone at the request of law enforcement to help locate a missing person when there is sufficient information to believe there is a risk or threat of death or serious physical harm.
The Loudon County Child Abduction Response Team sought help for the bill from the two local legislators.
Estes said Tennessee cell phone service providers supported the bill. Amber Alert training by CART highlighted the need for the law.
Tennessee became the fifth state to pass the Kelsey Smith Act, named for a 17-year-old Kansas girl and daughter of a law enforcement officer. Kelsey was abducted from a mall in broad daylight, sexually assaulted and murdered in 2007, days after graduating high school. The tragedy resulted in a nationwide movement by her parents, Greg and Missey Smith, and other advocates to ensure that law enforcement authorities can receive assistance from a cell phone provider to help find the missing person.
In Kelsey's case, after four days the technology was used that pinpointed the location of her cell phone and her body was found within 45 minutes. Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Dakota have passed the Kelsey Smith Act.
"When we were doing our Amber Alert training, we met Kelsey's mother," Estes said. "We felt this was something we needed, and we contacted Sen. McNally and Rep. Matlock. They were so easy to work with. It passed the Senate first and the House Monday."
Estes said the law could have helped in some emergencies in Loudon County already.
"We've had cases with runaways - juveniles and teens," Estes said. In a case in another state, an individual had a stroke and couldn't speak to reveal his location. The cell phone technology allowed help to arrive in time.
"If law enforcement feels there is an immediate danger, the location device could be activated. In another state there was a case where someone threatened suicide and left a note. Had they known where the individual was they could have gotten to her in time," Estes said.
"One of the more important things I've had the privilege of doing is to help the 911 system to save lives," Matlock said.
The Loudon County CART team, with members from Loudon County Sheriffs Office, E-911, Rural Metro, Loudon Police Department, Ninth Judicial District Attorneys office and a local minister, is up and running, Estes said.
Plans are in the works for some training exercises. In child abduction cases, time is of the essence and preparation can save lives, she said.