The 150 Manatee Technical College students looked dubious at the idea Thursday, but most put on the purple bracelets — a promise that they won’t take them off until they register emergency contact information under TIFF.
To Inform Families First was an idea borne of a trag
edy in 2005, when Tiffany Olson died in a motorcycle accident. Christine Olson, her mother, couldn’t find out where her daughter was or what happened for more than six hours because law enforcement didn’t know who to contact.
By the time Olson found out early the next day, law enforcement officers told her that her daughter’s body was already at the Medical Examiner’s office, which was closed for the night. They asked her to sign for her daughter’s possessions found with her at the crash.
“I didn’t even know how to respond. I just said, ‘Yeah,’ I signed for the package, looked at my son and said I have to get gas,” Olson said. “So it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, there are no gas stations open, so I get home on fumes. I sat on my sofa with my daughter’s belongings in my lap, and I thought, ‘What just happened?'”
Olson soon met with then representative and now Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, saying people should have an emergency contact associated with their driver’s license. That way, if an accident happens, law enforcement can see who they need to contact simply by swiping the card.
Galvano made sure the Department of Motor Vehicles was aware of the idea, and from there an idea written on a yellow notepad became a reality.
“What they said when they heard about it, was, ‘Why haven’t we done this?'” Olson said. “‘We’re doing this immediately.’ Huge. Government doesn’t work like that, but they did in this case.”
A decade later, the idea isn’t just a reality but has also expanded to other states. Similar programs are available in Ohio, Illinois, Colorado and New Jersey. More than 11 million people have signed up in Florida, which represents 65 percent of all Florida drivers.
“We need to get it to 100 percent,” said Deb Roby, deputy director of motorist services at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “And we’ve been talking about it this morning, and I have four years until I retire, and we’re not waiting four years to get it 100 percent.”
Thursday’s ceremony honored those instrumental in making Olson’s idea a reality, which included Galvano, Sheriff Brad Steube, sheriff’s Col. Rick Wells and state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. Rep. Steube sponsored and passed a bill in the 2015 session that now has employees at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles ask people signing up for a Florida license who they would like as their emergency contact, instead of whether they would like to list someone.
“I think with that change, you’ll very easily get over your 65 percent, towards the goal of getting 100 percent of people,” Rep. Steube said. “When they ask you the question, then you’re prompted to think, ‘Oh, sure, I’ll be happy to give my information.'”
The ceremony also was an appeal to young people in the audience to register their emergency information. Each had a purple bracelet in front of them when they sat down, and Christine Olson asked them to put the bracelets on before they left and not take them off until they had registered.
“Let’s blow it up in Facebook, and share it like they did the Ice Bucket Challenge,” said Valerie Viands, assistant director of Manatee Technical College. “You guys know all about that. So let’s make this happen for TIFF.”
Sheriff Steube said registering should be a no-brainer. In addition to helping families, he and Wells said the effort assists law enforcement.
“This is something everyone needs to be involved in. It’s very important,” Sheriff Steube said. “If a loved one has been in an accident, we in law enforcement need to know who to contact immediately. Not six hours later.”
To register, go to www.toinformfamiliesfirst.org
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby