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Ending the heart-breaking search

MANATEE — When 22-year-old Tiffiany Olson and her boyfriend, Dustin Wilder, died in a motorcycle crash in December 2005, police did not have any contact information to notify their relatives about the wreck.

Olson’s mother, Christine, searched every hospital in Manatee County for her after hearing about the crash from a friend. When she got to Manatee Memorial Hospital two hours after the accident, she was met by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who handed her a bag with her daughter’s jewelry and was told Tiffiany’s body was already at the medical examiner’s office.

Wilder’s parents also weren’t able to locate him until hours later.

Christine Olson, after surviving the tragedy, didn’t want others to have to suffer as she did.

So with the help of state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, she was successful in getting the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to launch the Emergency Contact Information System to allow people to voluntarily register personal information online so that law enforcement can access it in the case of an accident or disaster.

When people register their information using their driver’s license information, it can only be accessed by law enforcement officers. The system recently garnered national recognition as one of the top 50 most innovative government programs.

This past week, the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University announced the 2009 Top 50 government innovations competing for the Innovations in American Government Awards.

More than 600 applicants competed for the honors, representing the work of city, county, state, federal and tribal government agencies. The Emergency Contact Information System is a finalist for one of six awards to be announced in September.

“It’s a very positive program, and there have been a lot of success stories because of it,” said FHP Lt. Chris Miller.

More than 2 million people have registered, he said, and it has been used more then 250,000 times.

“Those are encouraging numbers but there are still quite a few people who think it’s a good idea but haven’t taken time to register, and we encourage them to do so. It only takes a few minutes,” Miller said. “It’s vitally important that if you are injured in a crash, to get ahold of family in a timely fashion.”

Galvano said he is pleased the system is getting the recognition it deserves.

“I’m not surprised, however, because it is a great idea and Christine Olson deserves credit,” Galvano said. “She really turned a tragic situation into a real positive for millions of people.”