Author: Christy Williams

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!


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!