Author: Amelia MuellerAmelia Mueller is the North Central Texas Emergency Communication District's communications coordinator. Her responsibilities include managing and its social media platforms, creating educational content, managing the public education program, and more.

Christy’s Corner: Innovation Is Not Just About Technology

Christy’s Corner: Innovation Is Not Just About Technology

Innovation is commonly defined as the creation, development, and implementation of a new method, idea, product, or service.  It is an idea that has been transformed into practical reality.  I would add that it is achieved with a positive outcome.  For me, innovation is revolutionizing 9-1-1 by enhancing the service we provide the public, improving safety for our field responders, and providing new tools for our telecommunicators.

There are officially four types of innovation and I believe 9-1-1 hovers between disruptive and radical innovation.  We have done things the same way in 9-1-1 for years and years.  Proven, reliable technology and 9-1-1 systems that were designed and built in 1968 still exists in most areas of our country today.  It was apparent several years ago that 9-1-1 needed disruptive innovation, which involves applying new technology and processes to our industry.  The changes being made today by early adopters in the 9-1-1 space could also be considered radical innovation as the changes have given birth to a whole new way of processing and delivering 9-1-1 requests for assistance.

It is my experience in 9-1-1 that when you talk about innovation, people immediately think of technology.  In fact, I have focused on technology in my educational and awareness activities for the past several years.

Technology can be used to implement innovation, but the technology itself doesn’t produce innovation.  In recent years the 9-1-1 industry has placed so much emphasis on technology that we sometimes lose sight of the reasons why humans create new technologies in the first place.  Certainly with 9-1-1, that reason is to help people, save lives, and make a difference.

While I continue to champion the new technologies in 9-1-1 that will solve problems, I also want to support the greater definition of innovation by focusing on the people.  I learned many years ago that we can implement the latest and greatest technologies in the PSAP, but if the telecommunicators don’t use the new technology or don’t use it properly, there has been no gain or positive outcome.  If the public doesn’t know how to contact 9-1-1, we have failed in our mission.   It is time for this industry to focus on the people side of innovation by engaging our users, getting buy-in, enhancing our hiring and training practices, focusing on wellness and mental health, and pouring into our employees so they understand how they fit into the big picture.  Let’s give them a sense of value and pride knowing they are part of something great.  And it doesn’t stop with our telecommunicators.  We need to educate our field responders, decision makers and yes, the general public.  It’s time to focus on the human side innovation and recognize:

Technology + People = Success

Where is 911 now? How NCT9-1-1 looks to the future

Where is 911 now? How NCT9-1-1 looks to the future

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the history of 911 innovation and the phases the industry has gone through to accommodate new technologies. As an early adopter, the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District is at the forefront of innovative development. We push for the type of technology that improves the day-to-day tasks of 911 telecommunicators and is beneficial to our public. Here are some of the projects that we have our eye on.

We’re Going Vertical

During my first year at NCT9-1-1, a co-worker told me the story of a time when they received an open line 911 call but were unable to locate the caller. They eventually identified the apartment complex the call was in but couldn’t figure out what the unit number was. The 911 call taker instructed the firefighters to run up and down the stairwells and hallways shouting as loud as they could, and she was able to identify the caller’s location by listening for them on the other end. They found the caller, who was experiencing a medical emergency and couldn’t speak, and got them the medical assistance they needed.

This is the story I think of when I talk about z-axis. Currently, 911 maps are able to identify the y and x-axis points and use GIS data to present an approximate location of the caller. But this is 2D information. If a caller is in a multi-floor building, like an office or apartment complex, the 911 call taker won’t be able to tell which floor they are on. The Federal Communications Commission recently released a mandate that requires z-axis information with an accuracy of 3 meters to be available to 911 telecommunicators for 80% of calls.

The NCT9-1-1 GIS team were already thinking about the future of 3D mapping before this mandate came out. They’ve been collecting the necessary data to build 3D models of critical infrastructure, which includes places like schools or government buildings.

Let’s Get Social

During disasters that see a high amount of 911 traffic, it’s difficult to ensure all the calls get through. During Hurricane Harvey, local Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs or 911 call centers) noticed a high amount of calls for help through a different service: their social media platforms.

Since social media accounts aren’t typically monitored on a 24-hour basis by first responders, this created a buzz in the industry. How can PSAPs keep track of social media when they’re already overwhelmed with 911 calls?

NCT9-1-1 has partnered with university researchers to find out. Research has been done or is being written on what would be required to make social media a useful tool to 911 telecommunicators and not an additional burden. Questions like how to filter out true calls for help from spam or noise, what technology to use to present this information on consoles, and what kind of standard operating procedures and policies would need to be deployed are already being asked.

Don’t Forget About the People

Technology is important, and innovative technology gets us excited about the future, but NCT9-1-1 believes in staying grounded on our purpose: saving lives and making a difference. That means we can’t just innovate for innovation’s sake. We have to provide useful tools to 911 telecommunicators and life-saving technologies to our public.

Our director, Christy Williams, believes in a people-first approach to innovation. Remembering the actual human beings who will be using this technology should be the foundation of every project. Change is difficult, especially if your job is to save lives. We don’t believe in adding new technology just because it’s cool and flashy. There is a careful process to make sure any new technology that is invested in and implemented is useful. By focusing on the 911 telecommunicators needs, we ensure that changes will make a difference in saving lives.

The Only 9-1-1 Academy in Texas Will Graduate 13 New Telecommunicators During North Texas 9-1-1 Staffing Shortages

The Only 9-1-1 Academy in Texas Will Graduate 13 New Telecommunicators During North Texas 9-1-1 Staffing Shortages

ARLINGTON, TX, August, 3, 2021 — The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) will graduate 13 new 9-1-1 telecommunicators from the Regional Telecommunicator Training Academy on August 6 in a virtual ceremony. These recruits join the industry during a significant staffing shortage of 9-1-1 telecommunicators in North Texas. The recruits of class #011 represent agencies from across the region including the Balch Springs Police Department, Collin County Sheriff’s Office, Seagoville Police Department, and more.

The graduates completed a rigorous four-week program that taught 9-1-1 equipment use, state mandates and regulations, as well as how to handle crisis communications such as active shooters. They will graduate after taking the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) State Licensing Exam. Texas is the only state in the country that requires its 9-1-1 telecommunicators to be licensed in the same line as peace officers and jailers and was the first state to reclassify them from administrative professionals to first responders.

“They’re joining the industry during unprecedented times,” said NCT9-1-1 Training Coordinator Bret Batchelor. “The pandemic has changed a lot, and they’ll have to adapt quickly as it continues to affect the day-to-day roles of first responders. The chances of burn out only increase when working in that kind of high-stakes environment. But I have confidence that they all have what it takes to excel at this career.”

The academy has graduated recruits from across Texas and Arkansas since its inception in February 2016 and continues to grow with classes held twice a year in the winter and summer.

Class Photo of RTA #011
Class photo of Regional Telecommunicator Academy Class #011


About the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1)

The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) is responsible for 40 plus Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in the 13 counties surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The district supports these PSAPs through maintaining and upgrading 9-1-1 equipment, providing up-to-date mapping information, training 9-1-1 telecommunicators, educating the public on the proper use of 9-1-1, and monitoring PSAP functionality and compliances. NCT9-1-1 serves a population of 1.7 million and 10,000+ square miles.


The History of 9-1-1 Innovation

The History of 9-1-1 Innovation

The first 911 call was made on February 16, 1968 in Haleyville, Alabama by Representative Rankin Fite. It was a call that launched an industry dedicated to saving lives and supporting communities.  

At the time, the 911 system was called Basic 911. The system was a simple, two-way call and didn’t involve any of the routing or location accuracy we associate with 9-1-1 today. It was implemented before wireless phones, so it was a lot easier to know where you were calling from. 

911 has evolved significantly since that first call, but what key moments brought us from Basic 911 to recognizing wireless location to texting 911? 

Enhanced 911 

Enhanced, or E911, is the system most call centers use today. Implementing E911 into an agency allowed for a variety of new features and tools. Addresses, for example, can be displayed on a E911 system. ALI, or the Automatic Location Identifier, was provided with addresses being stored in a Master Street Addressing Guide (MSAG). Calls could also not be routed to the correct 911 call center by area code.

As wireless phones became more popular, there was an increased need for more accurate location information other than the ALI. That’s when the cell phone carriers began providing Phase I and Phase II as additional location information. Phase I provided a radius of where the caller was located based on cell phone tower signals, while Phase II narrowed down that radius to about 300 meters.  

E911 was the beginning of more innovative technology becoming available to 911 telecommunicators and led to the introduction of Next Generation 911. 

Next Generation 911 

Next Generation 911 (NG911) was first identified as a need in 2007. Technology was evolving quickly all over the country, and industry leadership recognized a new system was needed to support this rapid change.  

The introduction of NG911 allowed for cloud-based technologies to be integrated into the 911 system. This included GIS data and device-based hybrid location, which uses factors like GPS, Bluetooth beacons, WIFI, and other sources to provide a more accurate location of a caller. This is particularly important since much of the country has moved to smart devices.  

NG911 also brought the introduction of additional data, which are supplemental resources 911 telecommunicators can use to build situational awareness to a call. This can include being able to view the iPhone Health app information when a call is made from that device or connecting to the phone’s camera to see what’s happening on scene in a live stream.  

There are many other types of innovation the emergency number industry is working on developing, and even some new technology that we haven’t identified yet! Looking back at the history of 911 innovation makes us excited to think about what the future of the industry holds.