Category: Christy’s Corner

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!