Prince William County residents can add their information to the new Mental Health Awareness Response and Community Understanding Services (MARCUS) alerts system, which the Public Safety Communications Center will begin accessing by Dec. 1. This new statewide “Smart 911” system will enable dispatchers to send the most appropriate help and make first responders aware of considerations such as mental health diagnoses, disabilities and medication use. The system is primarily designed to involve behavioral health experts in responding to individuals in crisis, including by limiting the role of law enforcement when practical.
“It allows us to triage the support we’re sending,” said Eddie Reyes, the Director of the Public Safety Communications Center. “Someone with a mental health crisis would be better served with a mental health clinician rather than a police officer. That information is very crucial to the first responders because when they arrive there, they already know all that from the profile … and they don’t have to ask you those questions and take a lot of precautions because they already know before they arrive.”
“MARCUS involves creating mobile crisis response teams, regional crisis call centers and a voluntary database for 911,” said County Behavioral Health Program Manager Heather Baxter. “Marcus Alert legislation focuses on individuals in behavioral health crisis and individuals with substance use disorder, mental health disorders, or developmental disabilities.”
While MARCUS focuses mainly on mental health issues, people can also voluntarily self-report other personal information that may be useful in emergency response. “Residents are encouraged to share as much personal information as they are comfortable with,” said Michelle Surdam, a public safety communications assistant director. “This includes health issues, occupants of the residence, to include pets, anything that they feel is important for first responders to know to most effectively handle calls for service.”
In Fiscal 2020, Prince William County completed 3,165 evaluations 911 calls responding to people in crisis. Of these, 954 cases required a temporary detention for inpatient hospitalization. “People who are experiencing a crisis need to be connected with services as early as possible,” Baxter said. “First responders are often the first to interact with a person in crisis and need to have the training and information to best help that person.”
Legislation introduced by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 requires that jurisdictions across the state assemble MARCUS databases. The law is named to honor Marcus-David Peters, a high school biology teacher killed by a police officer in Richmond while experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
Residents can go to smart911.com to register their information.
See a quick video on Marcus alert here.