Tiffany Marie Olson was a beautiful young lady from Manatee County. She enjoyed the ocean. And, like all of us at Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary, Tiffany also loved all animals. She cherished her dog Simba. Simba had been found injured on the side of the road as a puppy and had surgery to mend injuries to her hindquarters. Tiffany adopted and rehabilitated her. Tiffany was also very close to her mother Christine. They enjoyed taking day trips together.
This year Tiffany would have been 36 years old. But in December 2005, she and her boyfriend Dustin were killed by a drunk driver. They were both on a motorcycle, wearing helmets when the drunk driver pulled out in front of them. Tiffany was thrown from the back of the motorcycle and died instantly. Dustin died as well. They were 15 minutes from our home. This fatal accident occurred at 7:01 PM. At 11:15 PM, Christine received a call from her son Darek. He had received word that his sister had been in an accident. There were no details about the severity of Tiffany’s injuries.
Christine hurried to the emergency department, still in her pajamas. She met her son there. She spoke to the receptionist, saying that her daughter had been in an accident. The receptionist told her that Tiffany was not there. Christine asked the receptionist to call other hospitals to look for Tiffany.
But because of HIPAA regulations, the receptionist explained that she could not do that. Christine asked the receptionist to call the police, but the receptionist could not do that either. Christine and Derek were taken into a small room with a telephone. Christine remembers sinking to the floor in tears. She did not even know who to call.
At 1:30 AM, law enforcement officials told Christine and Derek that Tiffany was gone. Christine asked, “Where did she go? Did she go to a hospital in Tampa?” They said Tiffany was probably at the Medical Examiner’s Office, and they should call there the next morning. When the police asked Christine to sign for Tiffany’s belongings, she realized that Tiffany had lost her life. Derek fell to the floor in tears. Christine was in shock.
When Christine returned home, she began to wonder about all the events that happened that night. Why had it taken so long to be notified about Tiffany’s death? “I was painfully aware that something had to be seriously wrong with the system if I wasn’t notified for 6 ½ hours after the accident that took my daughter’s life,” says Christine tearfully. She realized that the system of informing families needs to be improved. She has made it her mission to become the facilitator for improvement in Florida and hopefully worldwide.
Christine came up with an idea to include emergency contact information on driver’s licenses. Her idea would allow immediate first responder access to names and phone numbers of family members and friends to be contacted during emergencies.
Christine developed the TIFF initiative, named in honor of Tiffany, and acting as an acronym for ‘To Inform Families First’. Christine hopes to prevent other people from experiencing the English of hours passing before receiving notification of loved one’s injury or death. One of Christine’s friends wrote a petition and went door-to-door in Manatee County, getting signatures in support of the TIFF initiative.
Christine went to Bill Galvano state representative in Manatee County at the time and Senator in Florida since 2012. He said she should bring her idea to the Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety (DMVHS) in Tallahassee. During her first meeting with the DMVHS representatives, the consensus was that the TIFF initiative should start immediately. On October 2, 2006, Christine became the first person to register emergency contact information online through the DMVHS website.
Emergency contact information can be submitted online with no fee for anyone with a valid Florida driver’s license or ID card. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete the registration. Licenses are scannable, like a credit card. Anyone who has registered online will have their emergency contact information immediately available so families or friends can receive a notification. This is useful for motor vehicle accidents, stroke, heart attack, falls, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and special needs.
In Florida, 16 million people registered their emergency contact information at the TIFF initiative website, https://www.toinformfamiliesfirst.org/register
Florida is a prototype model for other states. Representatives from Florida are more than willing to answer any technical questions from representatives in other parts of the country interested in bringing the TIFF initiative to their states. Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells is also willing to talk to anyone in the world about the TIFF initiative.
Sheriff Wells puts in plain words, “Before TIFF initiative, law enforcement officers would spend hours and sometimes days trying to locate family members of a victim who had been seriously injured or killed. The Emergency Contact information database that law enforcement officers now have access to has turned those hours or days into minutes.”
Unfortunately, in June 2018, Christine once experienced the grief of not being notified during an emergency when her sister, Barbara, living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, fell. Barbara and her friend were walking along the waterfront in Milwaukee after having dinner. Barbara became lightheaded and fell hitting her head. She stood up, feeling embarrassed, but planned to return home. Fortunately, a police officer witnessed her fall. He went to Barbara after the fall to see if she was okay. Barbara said she was fine.
But the policeman called an ambulance because as he was walking to Barbara, her head began to swell. According to the police officer Barbara collapse by the time she reached the hospital. She had a critical brain bleed requiring emergency surgery and life support.
Wisconsin has not instituted the TIFF initiative.
Neither Christine nor Barbara’s daughter, who lives one hour away from her mother, was notified that Barbara was on life support for three days. Fortunately, Barbara survived.
States currently participating in the TIFF initiative:
• New Jersey
Christine is starting a partnership with Animal Network, Inc., a Bradenton based nonprofit organization dedicated to “helping people help animals.”
She plans to extend the TIFF initiative by including a second database of emergency contact information for pet owners.
Animal caregivers also can be notified when emergencies occur. Christine happened to meet Pam Freni, president of Animal Network, Inc., at a rummage sale fundraiser. They had a conversation about the need for readily available emergency contact information for pet owners. Christine and Pam will approach state officials with a proposal for a new pet initiative. As part of TIFF, contact information for families and animal caregivers will also immediately be available to law enforcement officials.
For more information on starting emergency contact information initiative in your state, visit www.toinformfamiliesfirst.org/register