MANATEE -- The Thanksgiving holiday brings families together along with moe traffic on the road.
While families gather to celebrate the holidays, Christine Olson hopes they discuss who will be contacted in case of an emergency and get the information registered.
If a family is a no-show to dinner because of a medical emergency or car accident, it could take at least six hours to find out what happened, Olson said.
"Accidents are a part of life," Olson said. "This is a call to action."
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Olson speaks from experience. In 2005, her daughter Tiffany and Tiffany's boyfriend were in a fatal motorcycle crash. The crash was 15 minutes away from the Olson residence, but it took law enforcement six hours to contact her. By then, Tiffany's body was already with the medical examiner. Olson was given her daughter's jewelry in a bag.
Tiffany's driver's license did not list her current address, and without adequate contact information, Olson said notifying loved ones in an emergency can be a guessing game for law enforcement.
Olson created a namesake
initiative called TIFF, To Inform Families First. In eight years, the initiative has garnered around 8 million drivers licences and other ID registrations. The purpose for registering is for emergency contact information to be directly tied to a license.
In an effort to get more drivers registered, the To Inform Families First website was redesigned by Manatee Technical Institute students and relaunched last month.
The Manatee High School key club has done promotional work for the program, and public service announcement will be aired on Bright House.
The program takes the elderly into consideration.
"A lot of people here are retirees, and they may not have family in Florida," Olson said. Olson said that a family in Tennessee reached out to her after it took over 12 hours to learn of a loved one's fatal crash.
Olson and Mahlios spoke this year at an event at Selby Gardens put on by the Stroke Foundation to remind people that they can register at any age.
Olson said she wants to encourage registration by making it a group event.
"Best friend, sisters, mothers and daughters and those who love to spend time together could meet to come up with creative ways to raise awareness," Olson said. "It would be group with a passion to raise awareness and, first and foremost, get themselves registered. We have to change the way families are notified."
The idea started when Olson, then a server at the Rod and Reel Pier, wrote down a petition for emergency contact information on drivers licenses on a yellow legal pad before making a more formal petition. State Sen. Bill Galvano supported Olson's idea and developed a house resolution that was passed.
"The rest is history," Olson said. "It really took the help of the state of Florida. It took less than eight months to implement."
In addition to the 8 million drivers registered in Florida, other states have either adopted the program, or have inquired how it can be implemented.
"It's one of these things that is kind of a no-brainer," Olson said. "It just happened to fall into my lap that night after Tiffany was killed."
It takes under two minutes to register emergency contact information for a license, and the information is stored in the magnetic strip on the license.
"Law enforcement scans it like credit card in their vehicle, and the contacts you entered show up immediately," Olson said.
Through the initiative, emergency contact information can also be obtained by running the license plate.
Only law enforcement can access the information entered.
Law enforcement typically goes to the home address listed on the license in the event of a fatal accident.
Karen Mahlios, the vice president of To Inform Families First, was not home when law enforcement attempted to inform her of her daughter's fatal car accident. It took seven and a half hours to reach Mahlios over the telephone with the news.
Mahlios said this Friday marks the ninth anniversary of losing her daughter. She joined Olson in To Inform Families First with Olson when it was founded.
While Olson said they have come a long way, she's concerned only about half of the 16.2 million Florida drivers are registered.
"We are constantly trying to come up with ideas to raise awareness," Olson said.
Olson and Mahlios are also seeking more community involvement in the program.
"It's not easy what we have to talk about," Mahlios said.
Olson added that families should register when they are together for the holidays for peace of mind.
"It's not about Tiffany anymore. This is for the other families out there," Olson said.
Volunteer opportunities with To Inform Families First are available. For information, contact Christine Olson at 941-795-1869 or
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.