Category: News & Media

Four 911 Myths and Why They’re Dangerous

Four 911 Myths and Why They’re Dangerous

Everyone knows what three digits to call during an emergency, but we always hear rumors about the 911 industry. We’re not sure where these assumptions come from, but every now and then we like to share the latest 911 myths and set the record straight. This week we’re discussing our top four from the past year, but look at the last time we addressed popular emergency number myths. 

Myth 1: You will be charged for dialing 911 

We hear this most often from our more senior public, but this is also a common query on search engines. Luckily 911 is supported by public funds, so it doesn’t cost you anything to dial those three digits. Every state has a different approach to processing 911 funds, but in the NCT9-1-1 service area, you pay a 911 service fee on every phone bill. After going through some formalized budgetary processes at the capital, that money is distributed to the various 911 authorities across the state. Your local law enforcement office may also have a budget to support communications.  

You may be charged for emergency medical services, such as riding in an ambulance to a hospital, but that cost depends on the hospital and your own health insurance policy.  

Myth 2: You can’t text 911 

This actually depends on where you live. Those living in the NCT9-1-1 service area have been able to text 911 since 2013,  but only about 25% of the country has text-to-9-1-1. It’s always better to call if you can and text if you can’t, but if you text in an area that doesn’t offer text, you’ll receive a bounce back message. 

How to Text 911

Myth 3:  911 can’t call you back 

In most cases, 911 will receive your phone number and is able to call you back. The only exception is if you call on an inactive cell phone (or a phone that isn’t connected to a call plan). Though you will be able to reach 911, they will not receive location information or a call back number. You should also still confirm your phone number with the 911 call taker to make sure they have the right information. 

Myth 4: 911 automatically knows your location when you call on a cell phone 

We’ve said it a hundred times but we’ll say it again: 911 does not always get your exact location when you call on a cell phone. They may receive your approximate location, which is accurate within about 300 meters (or 3 football fields). That’s why it is always important to immediately tell the 9-1-1 call taker where you are and never assume they can track you.  


Top Tips for a Safe Fourth of July

Top Tips for a Safe Fourth of July

July 4th is just around the corner, and though it’s a time to celebrate and gather with friends and family, to the public safety industry it’s a busy night for emergencies. Help your local police, fire, and emergency medical professionals (not to mention 9-1-1 telecommunicators!) by following these safety tips.  

Fireworks Safety  

Flames and July 4th go together like that other American favorite: peanut butter and jelly. From grilling to fireworks, we love to use heat to celebrate our independence. Unfortunately, that can lead to accidents and calls to 9-1-1 for emergency assistance. Stay safe this year with these firework safety tips.  

  • Know your local laws. In Texas, different counties or cities have different laws about what is permissible with fireworks. Some don’t allow them at all, some depend on whether a burn ban is in action, etc.  
  • Never point fireworks at people, pets, cars, or structures.  
  • If you can shoot fireworks in your area, follow the instructions included on the packaging. Never shoot fireworks near dry grass or other easily flammable items. 
  • Have a bucket of water nearby for emergencies.  

Grilling Safety 

July sees the highest number of grill fires and accidents during the year. Don’t let you or your family and friends become part of the statistic.  

  • Never grill inside a structure, including a house, RV, or tent. 
  • Keep your grill clean to avoid old grease causing sudden flare-ups. 
  • Never leave a grill unattended and keep an eye on children and pets. 
  • Make sure your gas grill lid is open before lighting to avoid built up gas that could combust. 

Water Safety  

Boating on July 4th is an American as it gets, but it’s important to be cautious as this month has the highest amount of boating traffic. Other than wearing a life jacket and using an engine cut-off device, here are a few more key tips to stay safe on the water. 

  • Children shouldn’t be swimming without supervision. If they’re in the water, you should be too. 
  • Don’t overload your boat; always maintain capacity limits. 
  • Keep your distance from other boats before, during, and after fireworks. Many collisions occur during these popular events. To be extra cautious, wait for traffic to thin before heading back. 
  • Don’t boat under the influence. This seems obvious, but too many people ignore this simple rule or overestimate their limits. It’s not worth it. Wait until you dock to start drinking or assign a designated driver (or boater!). 

If you do experience an emergency, dial 9-1-1. Know that this night is one of the busiest for 9-1-1 call takers, so stay on the line until you get through. Hanging up and redialing will not get your call answered any faster. 

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!