Author: Christy Williams

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! 

Christy’s Corner: Calling All Teenagers . . . We Need To Hear From You!

Christy’s Corner: Calling All Teenagers . . . We Need To Hear From You!

It has been a long time since I was a teenager. Ok I will admit it has been a long time since I had teenagers! This does not mean I don’t value the voice of our teens. In fact, this audience is vital to our research on improving 9-1-1 in an innovative manner. I must really stretch and think (and listen and read) to come up with innovative ideas, as it does not come naturally to me. The teenagers, however, have been raised in a society of digital technology and coming up with new ideas is in their comfort zone. Some even think it is fun!

If I’m being honest, I’ll also admit that 25 years ago we were purposely leaving this age group out of our 9-1-1 public education programs. After all, teenagers “know everything” and didn’t need me to teach them about 9-1-1 or anything else. I concentrated on elementary students, senior citizens, and civic organizations. Well, as we have come full circle in 9-1-1, public education (now called public engagement) has once again become a focus. Now I want to learn FROM the teenagers!

When I did have teens at home, I asked them questions about 9-1-1 all the time. In fact, we were one of those houses that was usually full of teenagers between my two daughters and all their friends. It was not unusual for me to sit around the table (full of pizza and other enticing snacks) and asked these informal focus groups their opinions on how they would want to contact 9-1-1 in an emergency. It was then that I learned many assumed we had features in 9-1-1 that were not actually available. This led our agency to begin educating the public on things you could NOT do with 9-1-1.  I think our first was “Texting is fun, but you can’t text 9-1-1”. Fortunately, we have evolved since then and texting 9-1-1 has been available in our area for years.

Now technology is really exploding in the 9-1-1 industry and we are trying to become more data driven instead of exclusively voice centric. There is so much data available these days that could assist 9-1-1 telecommunicators and field responders. It is simply a matter of integration. However, I want to be careful that we are not planning to implement technology on what looks exciting to the technologists and vendors or even what is easiest to integrate. I want to implement the technology that the 9-1-1 telecommunicators identify based on the problems in the centers and that the public identifies based on their expectations developed from other facets of their digital life.

So, let us become a group that asks questions and really listens to the answers provided by our teens. Let’s encourage school resource officers and 9-1-1 educators to get into the high schools and instead of talking or teaching AT them, let’s talk WITH them. We need to know what they expect when calling for emergency services, how they would like to report emergencies and what apps or features they use in their daily lives that might be able to provide 9-1-1 with valuable data. We could even host contests for them to develop some of their ideas. Hopefully, the teens will feel good about providing input that can help save lives and make a difference. Maybe they’ll even share what we talk about on social media!