Author: Christy Williams

A 2021 Thanksgiving Message

A 2021 Thanksgiving Message

The pandemic has reminded me how important relationships and connections can be.  I think I took them and personal contact for granted prior to lockdown.  As we begin getting back out of our homes, I am so thankful for our state and national associations that can bring us together to learn and to connect personally.  While it was great to experience all the virtual training and conferences, I am so excited to see people face-to-face again.   Our associations are providing opportunities for networking, sharing lessons learned, forming new relationships and contacts as well as re-connecting with old friends.  These events offer chances to contribute, serve, and get involved.  I remember back in 2012 when I committed to run for national office with NENA.  I had gotten so much from the association for years, and I wanted a chance to give back.  I was well into my journey to Next Generation 9-1-1 with over 40 small to mid-size ECCs, and I wanted to share real stories and encourage others to start their NG journey as well.  What I didn’t count on was the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people as I was able to travel to numerous state conferences.  Each one was different, but the same.  They all shared a mission to advance our industry and opportunities to meet amazing people with incredible ideas and passion.  While I was not always successful in championing change and inspiring people to step away from the legacy mindset; I was blessed with new friendships, a network of subject matter experts to help me navigate my own journey, and hours and hours of sessions that taught me what others were doing around the country.  It was an honor and privilege, and I will forever be grateful.  I remain a technology and change champion for the 9-1-1 industry, but I am most thankful for the people I have gotten to meet who have taught me so much.

I am so thankful to all the people that helped me grow into the person I am today.  I talk about being a servant leader, but how did I become one myself?  With a lot of help, I assure you.  I have been blessed by so many people throughout my education and career.  Of course, it actually started much earlier than that.  I am thankful for my wonderful parents who instilled my core value system and encouraged me from the time I was born to present day.  I also had some pretty wonderful teachers in school and college.  The best ones challenged me and gave me a desire to grow and always do my best.  I am most thankful that they taught me to love learning.  I am thankful for each of the bosses I have had and the different things I have learned about my jobs and myself from them.  And isn’t it wonderful that we can also learn from our peers, people in organizations and committees, and mentors.  I am thankful for all the people in the 9-1-1 industry that have answered my incessant questions, counseled me through challenging times, shared their experiences and given me advice.  I am thankful that many people in this industry have become my friends.  These friends make me laugh when I feel like crying, they brainstorm with me and encourage me to achieve dreams I didn’t even know I had.  I have been blessed with the most amazing co-workers who are passionate, intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to improving 9-1-1 services.  I have also had the opportunity to work with the best telecommunicators who keep me focused on the mission.  These TCs are trusting and are willing to try new things in order to improve public safety communications.  They stand with NCT9-1-1 in our mission of saving lives and making a difference.

As I count my blessings, I hope that you can too.  It is wonderful to have a time of the year when we reflect on our lives and give thanks.  As I realize how many people have helped me learn and grow, I hope that I will remain thankful not just for Thanksgiving, but year round!

 

 

The Beginning

The Beginning

How can I possibly cover the last 30 years in a single blog post?  I have had the honor and pleasure of being a part of something great at NCT9-1-1 for the past 30 years. I got to start at the beginning (before 9-1-1) and have been amazed at the growth of this industry and the people. Speaking of beginnings, let me step back a bit. . .  

When I was in fifth grade, I did an assignment where I stated I wanted to be a nun when I grew up. Now this was particularly interesting because I was not Catholic. However, in reading the assignment as an adult I realized that what I really wanted to be was someone who helped others. Fast forwarding to college, I’m not sure how I planned to find a job to help others in the mass communications field (my major), but I knew I needed to understand people in order to communicate effectively, so I studied Psychology (my minor) as well. Then I got an internship at Tarrant County 9-1-1 (Fort Worth, Texas). I’m sure you have guessed by now that was all it took – I was hooked! That job not only gave me a passion for the industry and the experience to get my first “real job” at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, but it was also the beginning of building a purpose and developing my calling. 

I remember coming home after my interview to be the Public Education and Training Coordinator for this brand new 9-1-1 program. I told my boyfriend (now husband) I was unsure I wanted to take a newly created position in a new program where there was little direction for what they wanted me to do. He encouraged me that it was a dream opportunity to have the ability to develop my own job description, create a new program and stay in the industry that ignited passion and allowed me to help others. To think that I could have let fear, uncertainty, and doubt of the unknown keep me from my dream job still motivates me today. I was fortunate to have a support system and someone to encourage me to be brave and try something new. I have been trying to pay that forward ever since. I think it is why I am a champion for change and I have spent so many years encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and do something new that will improve 9-1-1 services in their area. Of course, each action of every individual will make our industry better and 9-1-1 services will be enhanced. But I hope that overcoming fear and doing something new will also inspire each individual to grow personally. Because it is the PEOPLE in our industry that make 9-1-1 great! 

30 years is a long time to work for an organization in this day and age. But it is not so long a tenure in the 9-1-1 industry. Have you been doing what you do for a long time? Are you feeling burned out? Does the new technology scare you a bit or does the bureaucracy frustrate you? You are not alone! There are many others feeling the same way. The 9-1-1 industry is filled with good people at all different stages of their careers (or calling) and that means you have a support system. There are others out there that have the energy and passion to support and encourage you at this very moment. Please reach out to others in our great industry when you need reassurance, ideas, or even a shoulder on which to cry. I consider it an honor to be faced with an opportunity to help someone in their time of need – so many of you have helped me in the last 30 years. If you answered yes to any of the questions above, please contact someone else in 9-1-1. Contact me. We are stronger together and there is plenty of good will in this industry. I am so blessed to have spent 30 years belonging – in a dream job, within an incredible industry that helps others, and working beside some of the most amazing people in the world!  

From the Flintstones to the Jetsons

From the Flintstones to the Jetsons

I wrote an article very early in my tenure at NCT9-1-1 with this same title. I was trying to demonstrate that 9-1-1 was making great strides in using technology to improve services. Painting a picture that we were used to using our feet to drive our cars but were excited about the changes to flying spaceships was indicative of what those early changes felt like.  

In 2003, digital mapping was introduced in the North Central Texas 9-1-1 region. For years, I had colored pencils in my desk and would use any spare time to color paper maps for the PSAP walls. Now we had maps that showed up on the telecommunicators’ workstations so they could see the growing wireless calls populate (approximately) on the map as well as the fixed structures associated with physical addressing. The maps weren’t used much then. Now about 90% of our call volume region wide is wireless, and we could not be effective without the digital mapping.  

While national organizations have been talking about Next Generation 9-1-1 since 2001, NCT9-1-1 began our journey to NG9-1-1 in 2007 with NG planning. Shortly after in 2008, we implemented our first ESInet and IP-capable Call Handling Equipment (CHE) as our first step of many in our NG transition plan. It was the transition from over 40 stand-alone 9-1-1 systems to one comprehensive regional 9-1-1 system that connected all those PSAPs. It was a big first step, but only the beginning of a phased approach based on available funding and technology. We were on our way! 

2013 text-to-9-1-1 was implemented in the North Central Texas region. We were the first to introduce this service in Texas and the fifth in the nation. We were actually asked to implement in 2012 by a wireless carrier. Although we had the technology researched and in place by this time, it was vital to us to ensure we had a public education plan, a telecommunicator training plan, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) as well. We wanted the big picture addressed prior to implementation so we waited for the operational elements and developed these standards and plans with feedback from our telecommunicators and supervisors as well as counterparts throughout the nation. They became a model that many people around the country later adopted. The motto was “9-1-1: Call when you can and text when you can’t.”  

There were some frustrating years when Dominos could find you but 9-1-1 could not. With the high wireless call volume, precise location was key to positive outcomes with response. However, our location technology was providing only approximate locations. In other words, our best was not enough. In 2018, North Central Texas 9-1-1 was one of the first to get device-based supplemental location, which is much more accurate than the previous method of network triangulation. It was such a victory to have better location to help save lives! 

In 2019, Texas reclassified telecommunicators as first responders through HB 1090. There was a time when 9-1-1 dispatchers and call takers were considered receptionists, but those days are long gone. With all the new technology and tools and the stress that goes along with being the first contact in the worst day of someone’s life and coordinating life-saving responses while keeping our field responders safe has elevated the position of telecommunicator to first responder – well deserved! 

There have been far too many technological advancements in NCT9-1-1 for me to list in this article, all of which have been baby steps in our journey to have the best 9-1-1 system available. This is a journey without a destination, but instead a commitment to continued improvement and constant change. We might be the Jetsons today with our current technology, compared to what we had 30 years ago. But who knows what tomorrow will hold? We will continue to go where no man has gone before as we forge the future of 9-1-1. 

30-year Anniversary of 9-1-1 in North Central Texas

30-year Anniversary of 9-1-1 in North Central Texas

The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) launched 9-1-1 in our region 30 years ago. June 3, 1991 marked the implementation of the systems in Collin and Rockwall counties. But the story did not start that day. There were almost two years of collecting fees to pay for the system, developing regional plans, procuring technology, rural addressing, training 9-1-1 telecommunicators, and educating the public. Thirty years ago on June 3rd, these counties hosted 9-1-1 cut-over ceremonies and made the public “first calls to 9-1-1.” Come to find out, those were not the most important calls of the day. Collin and Rockwall counties both received lifesaving 9-1-1 calls on their first day of service. This received great media attention and boosted the public awareness and confidence in the new 9-1-1 system. The calls were affirmation that the Texas legislature made the right decision in passing legislation to ensure the entire state of Texas was covered by 9-1-1 and assigning the Councils of Governments to take on the implementation of the parts of the state that did not have 9-1-1 service. Those two calls meant two lives saved on the very first day of 9-1-1 service in the NCTCOG region. That alone made all the planning and hard work worth it! This was only the beginning. . . 

I remember that first system like it was yesterday. We provided a special 9-1-1 phone and a monitor that displayed the caller’s name and physical address. It was fancy!  It was very exciting for dispatch to receive this information that had never been available. It was not easy, as we worked with the counties to convert rural route and box numbers into physical addresses. After all, we couldn’t mail a fire truck!  We also dealt with a lot of resistance from the public. They were used to calling their 7-digit local numbers for law, fire, and EMS and everyone that answered knew where they lived. To magnify the problem, Rescue 9-1-1 was one of the hottest television shows at the time and featured larger 9-1-1 centers around the country. Our residents were very adamant they did not want their emergency calls going to California. So, we did grass roots educating, presenting at local civic organizations, participating in community festivals, and worked with the local media. These were very real challenges 30 years ago but looking back it seems things were simple then.  

Changes in technology brought our next challenges. We introduced computer technology into our dispatch centers for 9-1-1 and it was the first tech of that kind some had ever seen. One of my favorite memories was when I was training on this new computerized system and instructed my students to “right click” on an area of the monitor. Everyone in the class picked up their pencil and wrote the word click. They did not prepare me for this in college! I have often heard the 9-1-1 industry hates change, and there has certainly been a lot of it in these past 30 years. Speaking on behalf of our awesome telecommunicators, they have always adapted to products and services that enhance 9-1-1 service and made it their “new normal” in a short amount of time. No matter what technologies and changes we threw at them, it didn’t change their mission to help people and serve their communities. The people have definitely been the best part of 9-1-1 for me in the past 30 years. 

I’m thankful for the public who listened to my presentations and asked questions at educational booths. The telecommunicators never cease to amaze me with their creativity and ability to solve problems on the fly. I want to recognize the elected officials that have heard our messaging and supported 9-1-1. I have been fortunate to be a part of the national/state associations that have been such a resource through the years and the different groups that collaborate regularly to share information and ideas. The Public Educators and Trainers Network of Texas helped me tremendously when everything was new and being developed. The Early Adopters Summit group inspires me daily as they forge the way to the future. There are too many to mention. I am blessed to have spent the last 30 years doing what I love and having the opportunity to help save lives and make a difference!