TIFF grows up: 4 million registered, 4 states, 4 years

To Inform Families First is offering access to a registry Floridians can sign up with this holiday season that provides family and friends with a free gift — peace of mind.

Through TIFF’s website, toinformfamiliesfirst.org, Floridians can register emergency contact information with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to ensure that a family member or friend will be notified quickly in an emergency.

“When you are in the middle of an emergency it’s too late to be thinking about registering,” said TIFF board member Linda Moore. “Put the paper down for 2 minutes and register now. It will be one less thing to think about in a time of crisis.”

Five years ago, the Emergency Contact Information registry did not exist and it took 6 and a half hours for Christine Olson, a waitress at the Rod & Reel Pier, to learn that her daughter Tiffiany was involved in a motorcycle accident. Due to the delay in notification, Olson was unable to reach the hospital before 22-year-old Tiffiany died.

It was this unimaginable event that served as a catalyst for Olson to rally government officials to make a change — to inform families first. TIFF volunteers have not stopped working to raise awareness about the voluntary registry among Floridians, as well as encouraging other states to adopt similar registry programs.

The Emergency Contact Information program allows licensed drivers and identification card-holders to submit two contacts that can only be accessed by law enforcement.

Sitting in state Rep. Bill Galvano’s downtown Bradenton office, Olson was the first person to register her emergency contact information when Florida’s program was activated in 2006. Today there are 4 million Floridians registered and four other states have followed Florida’s lead.

“Who would have known that one awful night would blossom into something like this?” said Olson.

Still, she said there is more to be done.

“It is reassuring to see the number of ECI registrants climb, but with more than 15.5 million licensed drivers in Florida we still have a long way to go,” said DHSMV executive director Julie L. Jones. “Our goal is for all Florida drivers and ID card-holders to register their Emergency Contact Information.”

TIFF vice president Karen Mahlios, Moore and Olson recently met with state Rep. Jim Boyd, a Republican from District 68, to inform him about the organization’s efforts. According to Olson, Boyd pledged his support.

Also, with the assistance of Manatee Educational Television, TIFF filmed a 5-minute promotional video, an educational panel discussion and a public service announcement that Bright House Networks is airing 300 times during the holiday season.

TIFF does not receive any public funding. Olson and volunteers such as Mahlios and Moore dedicate 20 hours or more a week outside of their full-time jobs and family obligations to spread the organization’s message.

There are ways in which the public can help.

Moore suggests that business owners follow the lead of Manatee County School Superintendent Tim McGonegal and Bealls’ senior vice president of human resources Dan Doyle.

McGonegal took steps to ensure school district staff learned of the registry and printed information in the district’s “Parent Pages.”

Doyle is informing 10,000 Bealls and Bealls Outlet employees by enclosing a TIFF flier with paychecks.

Olson suggested that snowbirds share information about TIFF with lawmakers in their home states and ask for similar programs. Despite being named one of the nation’s top 50 most innovative government programs by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado and New Jersey are the only states to follow Florida’s example.

Olson said that any state already using the Driver and Vehicle Information Database System could integrate a registration program.

Without outside funding, TIFF’s team does not have the resources to travel to conferences, speak at conventions and schools or push for change nationally, said Moore.

TIFF is looking for people with talent and resources. Mahlios noted that previously a business donated pens with the organization logo and Manatee Technical Institute’s graphic design department built and maintains the TIFF website.

Olson also is ordering “show and tell” wristbands that will be available the end of the month.

But, if there is one thing people can do to move the cause forward, it is register emergency contacts.

“It frustrates me when people learn about TIFF and don’t take action,” said Olson. “Why not?”

“It’s not enough to rely on a cell phone’s ‘In Case of Emergency’ function,” continued Olson. “Any number of things can happen to a cell phone in a car accident. The state ECI registry and cell phone ICE can work hand in hand. So, it is still important to register.

“Spending 2 minutes now can save you and your loved ones countless hours of worry. Register today.”

The TIFF website, toinformfamiliesfirst.org, offers a direct link to Florida’s registry as well as Ohio, Colorado and Illinois registries. New Jersey just passed a bill to implement the program this month. The link will be provided as soon as it is available.

According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office in Tallahassee, people without access to the Internet should be allowed to register in state or tax collector-operated driver license offices.

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