A new app is making communication between first responders and people with special needs or visible or invisible conditions that might affect their behavior easier and clearer.

For example, a diabetic whose blood sugar is low might seem drunk to a police officer. A person with epilepsy who is in the midst of a seizure might not have control over what they say or do, leaving first responders uncertain how best to, well, respond. The Vitals app deals with this issue by providing information about nearby people’s potentially impactful conditions directly to first responders’ phones.

The Vitals app is the product of Vitals Aware Solutions, a company founded in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota to help address these complicated dynamics, potentially saving lives in the process.

Vitals co-founder and Chief Digital Officer Nick Tietz will present at 1 Million Cups Fargo on November 7.

“We started on this about two years ago,” Tietz said.

Before the idea for the Vitals app fully germinated, Tietz and collaborators met with various nonprofit groups who work with people who have certain conditions that could affect or be misconstrued in first responder interactions. One of these groups was the Autism Society of Minnesota, through whom they met Officer Robert Zink of the St. Paul P.D., who is now the company’s police advisor.

Zink pointed out that officers don’t always understand how to interact with community members with certain types of conditions.

“Why isn’t there something that can help me understand the people that need my help from the people that don’t?” Zink asked, per Tietz.

The Vitals app presents the answer to Zink’s question. Users with special needs or particular conditions create a profile in the app that provides any vital information first responders might need to know about them in order to understand their situation and, hopefully, keep interactions with them safe and positive.

First responders with the Vitals app get a signal to their phones when someone with a Vitals app profile is within 80 feet of them.

Tietz characterized the Vitals app as taking advantage of certain things police departments are already doing, like issuing smartphones to officers.

“[The Vitals app] allows them to simply put an app on their phone,” Tietz said.

The company conducted a pilot test with the St. Paul Police Department a little over a year ago, and it is now available for use. The app is free for caregivers and individuals. Twenty-eight police departments in Minnesota and Ohio already use the app, and Vitals is looking to expand into new communities and states.

Already, there are a few stories in which the Vitals app has likely played a decisive role in saving lives. Tietz shared a story about a Vitals App user who told their brother they were suicidal. The brother contacted first responders, and thanks to the Vitals app, they knew as soon as they pulled into the driveway what was going on and what de-escalation steps to use for this person.

“No one wants to end up on the five o’ clock news because they misinterpreted someone in their community,” Tietz said.

In addition to Tietz and Zink, co-founders of Vitals include CEO Steve Mase, Investor Relations specialist G.L. Hoffman, and CFO Jim Dolan, as well as CCO Steve Alleyne. Retired Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau recently joined the company as President.

For more information on Vitals Aware Services and the Vitals app, visit thevitalsapp.com. 1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday at The Stage at Island Park.

Austin Gerth