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Date of Issue: January 03, 2008

Christine Olson: Making a BIG difference for others Islander of the Year

How to register emergency contacts

To provide emergency contact information on your driver's license, log onto www.hsmv.state.fl.us, click the "driver's license" link, and then the "emergency contact information" link.

You will be prompted to enter your driver's license number or identification card information and birth date and then provide contact information, including cell phone numbers for up to two people.

For more information, visit www.toinformfamiliesfirst.com.

One of the worst parenting nightmares I can recall was sending my daughter at age 16 driving away alone in “our” car for a night out with her friends. Not so bad really, good kids all - but she was driving. Her first time. Alone, driving at night. No adult, no watchful eyes.

I recall the pain - all for naught.

But my worst parenting moment doesn’t hold a candle to that of Christine Olson. Christine’s daughter Tiffiany was riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend, Dustin Wilder, when the worst happened. A crash. Tiffiany’s injuries were immediately fatal. Dustin was rushed by helicopter to the hospital and died hours later - before his family could be reached.

Tiffiany, age 22, was old enough to be on her own, of course, and her address on her license had changed. But she was still “mom’s little girl.”

A trio of Olsons worked at the Rod & Reel Pier, Christine, Tiffiany and Christine’s son, Derek.

Christine learned about the accident only because a friend of Tiffiany called Derek with sparse news about “a crash.” They didn’t know for certain of the crash or the fatality.

Mom arrived at the hospital more than seven hours after the crash to look for Tiffiany. No one there could tell her what had happened or where her daughter was. The Florida Highway Patrol couldn’t be reached and the morgue was closed.

Tiffiany was gone and so was the young man she loved.

Both families grieved.

But Christine found determination in her heart. She vowed that no parent would suffer as she had by not being notified of the death of someone so dear.

She began to seek a way to connect people in emergency situations with the loved ones and family members who “need to know.”

A crusade to change whatever law existed in Florida to allow emergency contact information to be available to law enforcement began with Christine.

She struck out looking for solutions, contacts, names, phone numbers and any help she could find to create some closure for herself - and, however sadly - to make a difference for others and spare them the pain in her heart.

The quest led her to us in search of Islanders to sign a petition to enact some sort of “notice” for families and, subsequently, to state Rep. Bill Galvano (R-68).

There were many tearful exchanges along the way. But Galvano led Olson to an almost immediate solution at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Neither a law nor the Legislature’s or a governor’s decree was needed to make Christine’s goal a reality.

The DHSMV already possessed the means to resolve the problem of finding loved ones in dire emergencies - they just needed the urging of Christine and Galvano.

The contact information would be included in the existing Driver And Vehicle Information Database, a secure system that Florida law enforcement agencies use to access information from their patrol-car computers simply by “swiping” a driver’s license.

The opportunity to register was added to the DHSMV Web site in October 2006 and ... just like that, Tiffiany’s Initiative became reality.

Galvano told The Islander that as of Dec. 28 there were 834,711 registered emergency contact participants. “Everyone has embraced it,” he said. “It’s impacted almost a million people and it’s all thanks to Christine. She turned tragedy into a positive for the entire United States.”

Galvano said his office gets e-mails and calls all the time from other states looking for details on how to start the emergency contact program.

“She’s done something wonderful with the memory of her daughter,” Galvano said, “and now we’re working with her at the federal level to provide this service to everyone in the United States.”

Galvano added that he has arranged for Christine to be honored in the Florida Capitol building, where her photo and story will soon be on display among others that are being honored as “real Flordia heroes.”

Olson also has a Web site in memory of her daughter that helps educate the public: www.toinformfamiliesfirst.com.

Her goal was to see 1 million folks registered by Tiffiany’s birthday, Dec. 7, but never mind that she fell a bit short.

Christine is now promoting her Tiffiany Initiative to other states, other legislators, other state and national leaders and transportation departments.

Only a few states had enacted registration for emergency contacts when Christine began her quest, but look out for her drive and energy and the good cause she represents.

Soon, Tiffiany will touch hearts everywhere.

Thank goodness for angels.

And, please, thank Christine, as we do, for making a difference in the lives of many, and for being our Islander of the Year: REGISTER.