Author: Christy Williams

Reflections on 2020

Reflections on 2020

I try to sit down and reflect at the end of every year. Well this year has given me a great deal on which to reflect. I know we can all agree 2020 has been different and full of more challenges than usual. As a public servant and a problem solver, I have tried to make sure the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) acted resourcefully (acting effectively or imaginatively, especially in difficult situations) and robustly (full of health and strength). Lucky for me, we have amazing NCT9-1-1 staff members who were eager to step up to the plate with their great ideas, exceptional skills, and impressive experience. Our number one commitment has been to support and advocate for our public safety answering points (PSAPs) while they have been making sacrifices to care for our communities and our safety. We launched COVID-19 resources including a website resource page and social media campaigns (2-1-1, general information, CDC requirements, etc.).

When I chose the word “resiliency” for 2020, this is not what I had in mind! However, we have all certainly proven resiliency this year. It reminds me of disaster planning where you have all the plans for bringing in a new generator in a power outage, but you never imagined you might have to use it exclusively for over two months and then would need to change belts and oil and conduct other long-term maintenance. It is one thing to have a plan and another to operate under that plan for so long. Nevertheless, we have had to persevere and endure in this pandemic with our continuity of operations plan (COOP) activated for over nine months and continued operations under the COOP anticipated for the foreseeable future. The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and NCT9-1-1 have been working remotely since March, proving our ability to adapt. It is difficult not having face-to-face collaboration, but we have the tools and technology to allow us to communicate daily and take care of business.

Of course, you can always find the good in things if you look hard enough. This year we have had the forced opportunity to slow down. With a less hectic schedule we have been able to renew ourselves and practice more mindfulness. There has been an amazing amount of virtual training opportunities that have been free or low cost and allowed more of our district staff and PSAP personnel than ever to gain training they otherwise would not have gotten. “The new normal” has certainly taught us to be more patient, understanding, and tolerant as we hear the dogs barking on calls, look forward to the children of the house photo bombing our video calls, and accept that people on calls may being wearing ball caps, ponytails, and maybe even no makeup!

But it takes more than a pandemic to stop progress in 9-1-1! It was still a very busy year in the region. We welcomed Sunnyvale to our district when they were recognized by the Commission on State Emergency Communications (CSEC) as the 77th 9-1-1 entity in Texas at the CSEC May 19th Commission meeting. They have contracted for dispatching with Seagoville Police Department and executed an inter-local agreement (ILA) with NCT9-1-1 for 9-1-1 infrastructure and networking. We also said goodbye to the Dublin Police Department PSAP as they consolidated with the Erath Sheriff’s Office this year.

The data team continued working with our vendor to improve our analytics and worked with a major wireless carrier on a Real Time Text (RTT) pilot as we prepare to send letters of request to all carriers soon. The GIS team conducted an Emergency Call Routing Function (ECRF) upgrade, implemented automation, and a new schema.  They also continued their ground-breaking work using drones for addressing and capturing 3D data.

Our trainers completed lesson plans for the new Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) Basic Telecommunicator Licensing Course. Our communications staff continued working on a public education digital strategy, which has improved our website traffic and increased online followers and engagements on social media. To mitigate problems reaching the public in a 9-1-1 service interruption, NCT9-1-1 was designated an Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Alerting Authority by FEMA and TDEM.

The support and strategic services teams continued to assist staff on multiple projects and everyday administration. As we examined systems and processes, they completed review of current governing documents (policies, processes, and guidelines), wrote or revised 30+ documents, and created a schedule for regular review. These documents help us to be efficient and consistent to remain resilient.

The technology team focused on mitigation, network design, and security. Indeed, they have proven these activities are not one-time projects, but ongoing and constant responsibilities. They also completed negotiations and executed an amendment with our next generation core services provider to their existing contract, which provides an upgrade in services without additional funding and extended the current contract.

Working on a new dispatch mapping product might have been the biggest project of the year. It encompassed every team. The year started by working with PSAPs and GIS professionals around the country to develop requirements, and then we moved right into procurement and eventually negotiations and awarding a contract with a strong scope of work.  Of course, as with any new product, training is a vital part of implementation with a great deal of time and work to train over 500 telecommunicators (TCs). For the first time ever, the training for this implementation was virtual. In fact, the cutovers will be virtual as well. This comes at a great time when our regional COVID-19 cases have risen in the PSAPs. The new product is cloud-based with numerous new features we have never seen in a mapping product. NCT9-1-1 has worked closely with the vendor to test the product in our environment and the vendor has incorporated our feedback to improve the product even more. This is an example of innovation that will improve 9-1-1 services in the region and provide additional tools to our TCs. We look forward to full implementation in the new year!

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support and willingness to change for improvement by our wonderful PSAPs. Your “can do” attitude and unflappability have always been evident, but never more than 2020. You have been a light in a time of darkness. You have answered your calling to serve your communities and never had the opportunity to remote from home or in some cases even socially distance. Our 9-1-1 TCs have been there for callers in need without fail. You have remained a constant and a calming voice as our first, first responders. You have not only survived in this pandemic, but you have thrived! Thank you. You are my heroes.

I am also very thankful for our vendor partners. They have continued to serve our region by developing and enhancing our products. They easily adapted to a virtual environment and have continued to be responsive to our needs and feedback.

So, as we say goodbye to 2020, I have to say it has not been all bad. However, I am truly looking forward to 2021. I have contemplated numerous words for the upcoming year and the one that keeps coming back to me is “courage.” I know that our TCs have been courageous this year, but our society has reached COVID-19 fatigue and we need courage to keep going and doing all the right things. Status quo is still not enough for this region, even in a pandemic. We must keep doing what is right and not what is easy. We cannot coast, but we must keep on keeping on. So, join with me in hope for a better future and belief that tomorrow will be better. Have courage to venture forward and be the best we can be. We can do this together! We will continue saving lives and making a difference!

Christy Williams

Director of 9-1-1, NCT9-1-1

Reflections on 2019 from a 9-1-1 Perspective

Reflections on 2019 from a 9-1-1 Perspective

It’s that time of year again when we reflect on the previous year, contemplate lessons learned, and begin planning for the new year ahead. Last year I identified “unstoppable” as the word for 2019. All in all, I think that has been accurate. December 3rd marked the first anniversary of the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District or NCT9-1-1. Due to this transition and starting a new district without cash reserves, our biggest challenges in 2019 centered around funding. But being unstoppable, this did not hamper productivity and accomplishments.

During our first year as a district, a Board of Managers was created, a Strategic Advisory Committee was appointed, and the district joined and participated in the Texas 9-1-1 Alliance. NCT9-1-1 hosted Regional Telecommunicator Academy classes #007 and #008, added Lifecare EMS in Parker County as a secondary PSAP, and completed implementation of a SD WAN solution for network diversity and dynamic routing.

The GIS team completed the transition from EGDMS to the newly created Regional GIS Data Quality Control process and implemented a new county disbursement model, the technology team replaced Uninterrupted Power Sources (UPS) at 35 sites and completed the microwave network, and the strategic services team executed new Interlocal Agreements for all PSAPs. The operations team completed a quality assurance resource document and the data team conducted Real Time Text (RTT) research, testing, outreach, and training. The support team worked behind the scenes and assisted in many of the completed projects.

NCT9-1-1 focused on PSAP engagement this year. Regular efforts ensured PSAPs have greater awareness and more communications. The staff brought in companies to talk about new technologies, hosted PSAP focus groups on relevant issues, and included PSAP feedback in product development and implementation. A Generational Advisory Board was created this year in an effort to create a culture that will attract Millennials and Gen Z to our workforce and assist in retaining current employees. This concept has been well-received, and we hope to expand the scope to PSAPs in the coming years.

Streaming services have not just become popular with the way we watch television, but with public safety as well. NCT9-1-1 introduced optional services for the PSAPs this year with Waze and flood warning sensors. In addition, we entered into a contract for data analytics with a company that is revolutionizing the way we have historically provided call statistics through reporting. Phase I has been completed and the PSAPs now have improved reporting with a user-friendly platform to run reports and access a dashboard of near real time information. The next phase will allow us to bring in the health of all our systems.

Perhaps the greatest thing to happen to 9-1-1 in Texas in 2019 was the passing of House Bill 1090, which reclassified telecommunicators from clerical workers to first responders. This was the culmination of a long effort to give telecommunicators the recognition they deserve. NCT9-1-1 celebrated with our PSAPs by hosting a Commencement Ceremony.

On a national level, NCT9-1-1 continued to coordinate the Early Adopter Summit with the third annual event held in South Carolina. This effort brings together early adopters in the 9-1-1 space and innovative companies throughout the country to collaborate and plan for the future. It was the largest event to date and was considered a great success. Special thanks to the NCT9-1-1 planning team!

The FCC issued a report detailing the cause and impact of a nationwide CenturyLink outage that disrupted 911 service for approximately 17 million Americans in December 2018. The report, issued after a thorough investigation in which NCT9-1-1 participated, outlined lessons learned from the incident and identified network reliability best practices that could have prevented or mitigated the effects of the outage. The FCC continues to stress the importance of reliability and works to ensure that our nation’s communications networks remain robust, reliable, and resilient.
The FCC also adopted rules that will help first responders locate people who call 9-1-1 from wireless phones in multi-story buildings, such as apartments and offices. The new rules will help emergency responders determine the floor level of a 9-1-1 caller. Specifically, wireless providers must transmit the caller’s vertical location, within three meters above or below the phone, to the 9-1-1 call center. This requirement will help emergency responders more accurately identify the floor level for most 9-1-1 calls. However, this is only the beginning. To make the data actionable, local 9-1-1 entities will need to enhance their GIS offerings and begin to implement floor plans and/or 3D mapping. This is a long road, but NCT9-1-1 has already begun planning.

The National 9-1-1 Progress Report by the National 9-1-1 Program states NG9-1-1 has now emerged as the desired level of 9-1-1 service. The NG9-1-1 Maturity Model consists of the following nine data elements: governance, routing/location, GIS, core services, ESInet, call handling, security, operations and optional interfaces. NCT9-1-1 has been focusing on all of these elements for the last several years and continues to do so.

As you can see, 2019 has been another busy and productive year for NCT9-1-1 and this region. Of course, we couldn’t do it without our partners of staff, PSAPs, elected officials, NCTCOG administration, vendors, and fellow 9-1-1 authorities. Thanks to you all for assisting us in being unstoppable!

As we change our focus to 2020, resiliency will be our word of the year. NCT9-1-1’s goal for resiliency will be achieved by being reflective, resourceful, robust, and redundant. Systems and processes will be examined in order to be efficient, inclusive, and interoperable while continuing to mitigate risks. This requires the willingness and ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances. NCT9-1-1 will measure success as the capacity of the district to survive, adapt, and grow, regardless of the chronic stress of the industry and the acute shocks of service interruptions and temporary financial limitations. NCT9-1-1 seeks not to just survive but to thrive regardless of the challenge. We will continue saving lives and making a difference!

Reflections on 2018

Reflections on 2018

Last night I reflected on the year 2018 in the 9-1-1 industry and our region.  2018 was a year of triumph and new beginnings peppered with tribulations.

NCTCOG 9-1-1 started the year with an exciting pilot project working with Google and RapidSOS to trial supplemental location that has the potential to revolutionize 9-1-1 for callers and responders.  Following the trial, NCTCOG staff and telecommunicators assisted in creating awareness and advocating for the permanent adoption of this technology.  In the fall, these efforts paid off as both Google and Apple announced they would be providing device based supplemental location to 9-1-1.  NCTCOG uses the RapidSOS Clearinghouse to push the information to each of our PSAPs.

February 16th marked the 50th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call in the United States.  The months since that anniversary date have brought numerous celebrations, including the 9-1-1 Festival in Haleyville, Alabama where the inaugural call was placed.  Associations and 9-1-1 centers throughout the country have hosted different events to honor 50 years of 9-1-1.  Now telecommunicators and their families, along with the general public, can go visit the “red 9-1-1 phone” from Haleyville proudly on display in the new National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington DC.

President Trump contributed to the celebration on February 16th by signing two new laws to improve emergency calling.

Kari’s Law requires multi-line telephone systems—which commonly serve hotels, office buildings, and campuses—to enable users to dial 911 directly, without having to dial a prefix (such as a “9”) to reach an outside line.  Kari’s Law also requires multi-line telephone systems to provide notification, such as to a front desk or security office, when a 911 call is made in order to facilitate building entry by first responders.  Kari Hunt was killed in a hotel in Texas while her daughter tried unsuccessfully to call 9-1-1 for help.  Kari’s father, Hank Hunt, has worked since her death to get laws changed so that people can get direct access to 9-1-1 while in hotels.  Hank was present for the signing of this important legislation.

The second law was RAY BAUM’S Act which had a directive to address dispatchable location for 9-1-1 call, regardless of the technological platform used.

And it wasn’t just the President and Congress that has supported 9-1-1 in 2018, the FCC worked diligently on improving 9-1-1 calling from Multi-Line Telephone Systems and RAY BAUM’S directive for dispatchable location through proposed rulemaking in September in order to provide clarity and specificity to these statutory requirements so that companies can effectively meet their obligations.  They are also examining how to route wireless 9-1-1 calls more quickly to the proper PSAP and continue to focus on helping first responders locate wireless 9-1-1 callers.  With the carriers committing to provide device-based location, the next area of emphasis will be on vertical location or Z axis.

The NCTCOG 9-1-1 Regional Telecommunicator Academies continued to provide licensed telecommunicators for the region through two month-long classes.  Our County 9-1-1 Coordinators were able to improve accuracy over 90% and move into the maintenance phase of error resolution.  NCTCOG had two staff members certified as FAA 107 pilots and they conducted a trial of addressing a subdivision using UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) or drones.  Working through flight regulations and restrictions of UAS will allow the 9-1-1 industry to address new subdivisions in a much more timely and efficient manner, enhancing the 9-1-1 map accuracy for 9-1-1 call location.

NCTCOG continued to support innovation and new services  to enhance emergency communications by working with universities, startup companies and existing companies with new technology.  PSAPs and staff participated in focus groups and pilots and NCTCOG hosted the second annual Early Adopter Summit for 9-1-1 early adopters throughout the nation.  NCTCOG also entered into an analytics contract with RapidDeploy.  This contract will allow us to collect call data and provide to PSAPs in reports and on a dashboard.  The next phases of the contract will bring in additional data and analyze it and then use the information to make good decisions for the future based on predictive analytics.

Lastly, NCTCOG 9-1-1 became a regional district on December 3 and NCT9-1-1 has launched a new website, logo and branding.

As for tribulations, I don’t want to rub salt in our wounds but the last several months have brought us challenges with outages.  The service has been restored and there have been numerous lessons learned, both technically and operationally.  Most of all, NCTCOG has improved communications with our PSAPs as we partner in the good times and bad.  The national CenturyLink outage did indeed take down our region, however, Text-to-9-1-1 remained up for the duration so our public always had a way to reach emergency services.  In addition, NCT9-1-1, PSAPs and the media assisted in getting the word out on 10-digit emergency numbers. We find any outage unacceptable and have been working with our vendors to strengthen our system and improve in every area possible.  We are so thankful for the PSAPs and their administration working side by side with our staff to make these improvements.

I want to give special thanks to our wonderful Telecommunicators, supervisors, county coordinators, NCT9-1-1 staff, management and our industry partners.  Implementing new call handling equipment in a large region takes a great deal of work from all involved and I’m so proud that you all embraced the technology and are enhancing public safety through improved emergency communications.  The new CPE and network enhancements are a step in the right direction for continuing our mission.

In retrospect, the word I would use for 2018 is “achievement”. We practiced our core value of perseverance during the challenges and our heart, courage and attitude have prevailed.  The word for next year that I hope we can all focus on in good times and bad is “unstoppable”.  You have experience, knowledge, skills and passion and we stand together to serve the public and protect our first responders. You are SAVING LIVES AND MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

Thank you and Happy New Year!


Christy Williams

Director of 9-1-1, NCT9-1-1