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Texas 9-1-1 Telecommunicators are Now First Responders

Texas 9-1-1 Telecommunicators are Now First Responders

The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District celebrated the passing of House Bill 1090, which reclassifies them from clerical workers to first responders, with a First Responder Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, September 5.

Texas is the first state to reclassify its 9-1-1 telecommunicators and include them as first responders alongside peace officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. Before HB 1090, 9-1-1 telecommunicators were classified as secretaries.

“From citizens requesting emergency services, to field units needing manpower or deployment resources during disasters, 9-1-1 Telecommunicators are true first responders,” said NCT9-1-1 Operations Manager Sherry Decker. “HB 1090 acknowledges the important role they play.”

Texas is also the only state that requires telecommunicators to be licensed, which holds them to the same standards as peace officers and jailers. The 9-1-1 First Responder Commencement Ceremony honored the more than 500 NCT9-1-1 telecommunicators and the 43 Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs) they represent with a challenge coin and the ceremony included Christy Williams, the director of 9-1-1 at NCT9-1-1, and Ricky Rodriquez speaking on behalf of Congressman Ron Wright.

The keynote speaker was the winner of our speech contest, which called upon telecommunicators from the NCT9-1-1 region to submit a 3-5 minute speech on the significance of the first responder status. Our winner was Shawnna Davenport from Greenville Police and Fire, and you can watch her speech below.


Speech Transcript

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is good to be here today because today is historic. Today we have gathered together to celebrate the reclassification of telecommunicators as first responders. Why is that significant? Why is that so important? In order to answer those questions, you must first understand what a 9-1-1 telecommunicator is. Many of you have heard the cliche quotes “The thin gold line” or “The guardians of the three,” etc. However, what is it that makes this job so unique? What is it that makes these people so passionate about what they do? Why do so many feel it is as much a “calling” as a profession?

I started my career in 1983 with Hood County Sheriff’s office in Granbury, Texas. I was seventeen years old. I knew very little about the job and had no idea it would become my life’s work. In 1983 there was no 9-1-1 in our county. When someone called for help, they had to call the police or fire department telephone numbers directly. People used to keep those numbers posted on their refrigerator or next to their telephones, which were still connected to the wall! Home addresses were also posted so children & babysitters could find it in the event of an emergency.

As a child, my two favorite TV shows were Adam 12 and Emergency. Like many of my generation, Paramedics Gage and Desoto or Officers Maloy and Reed were my heroes. They were helping people and saving lives. I gave no thought to the voice in the background that sent these heroes on their missions. The calm professional voice that gave the call details, that relayed the updates, that gave the warnings or that sent additional help when they needed it. The voice with no face, the voice with no name, the voice with no importance or so it seemed. No one wanted to be that voice, after all they were “just a dispatcher.” Little did I know then that I would become that voice and it is so much more.

Many things have changed in emergency services since 1983. Our phones are mobile and no longer attached to the wall. Landlines and payphones have become obsolete. We Google and text as much as we call or speak face to face. We have a national 9-1-1 number system. Nearly everyone in the United States knows when there is an emergency, they should call 9-1-1. We have enhanced 9-1-1 and Next Gen systems to help us locate those that call for help. We can even text to 9-1-1. What has remained the same? Working nights, weekends, and holidays. Rotating shifts, 16-hour shifts with short turn arounds, high stress, employee turnover, and work overload. The 9-1-1 telecommunicator is the first contact in an emergency. This first responder must get the location of the emergency from an often panicked or upset person who may have no idea where they actually are. They must pull the information out of injured or uncooperative callers while remaining alert to any background noises that may indicate there is more to the situation than the caller is saying. They ask a series of questions to determine the nature of the emergency often while typing into the CAD, speaking on the radio, or toning out units at the same time. They must “triage” the call for the priority of response or route the call to the appropriate agency, all within seconds. Most 9-1-1 calls last only a few minutes, yet in that time, the 9-1-1 telecommunicator has gotten the vital information needed to send the caller lifesaving assistance, accessed for possible threats, determined the nature of the fire, gotten vehicle or suspect descriptions, etc. That is, when things go right. However, often things don’t go right.

Telecommunicators must be adaptable, knowledgeable, patient, caring, and yet professional during the most horrific of situations. We are the first contact made, the lifeline for the public as well as those we work with. On the phone or the radio, telecommunicators ARE there. Trying to locate callers who cannot or will not give their location. While listening to the depressed teenager threatening to commit suicide. While giving CPR instructions to the panicked mother of a choking child. While keeping an injured accident victim awake until medics arrive. While whispering to the terrified woman hiding in the closet from an intruder. While sending aid to a wounded officer begging for help. Our ears see what our eyes cannot and it is not easy.  Telecommunicators were there when a tornado ravaged the school trapping children and their teacher in debris. Telecommunicators were there taking messages for loved ones as the twin towers burned & fell. Telecommunicators were there as passengers fought to take back the plane from hijackers and as it plummeted to the ground. Telecommunicators were there as a shooter targeted their own officers outside their own building, leaving several dead. Before the officers, the medics or the firefighters, we were there for every tragedy or disaster. We sheltered in place during hurricanes, while our own homes were destroyed. We stayed until relieved, sometimes for days without electricity or water. We have come home broken hearted and beaten down, only to go back to do it all again the next day. It is not just a job, it is a group of dedicated & skilled individuals, willing to do more than they ever expected to when they first sat down at a console. Gage and Desoto are still my childhood heroes, but now I know it took a telecommunicator to get them there.

Thank you so much to all those who worked diligently to make this happen. We have always known we were first responders and because of your efforts, so does everyone else.  I am proud to be a part of this amazing profession. I am proud of those before me & for those yet to come.  We are the calm in the chaos, the thin gold line, and the protector of the three. We are part of the brother and sisterhood of emergency services personnel. We are the headsets & the call takers.  We are the first contact & the final call. We are as we have always been, we are the voice, and yet we are so much more. We are 9-1-1 telecommunicators and we ARE First Responders!

What’s the Difference Between 911 and Your Police Department’s 10-Digit Number?

What’s the Difference Between 911 and Your Police Department’s 10-Digit Number?

There are two ways you can contact your police department or sheriff’s office: by dialing 9-1-1 and by dialing the unique 10-digit number. Both of these lines are answered at the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP, or a 9-1-1 call center) of the police department or sheriff’s office, but they should not be used interchangeably. To put it simply, 9-1-1 should be used during emergencies while the 10-digit number should be used in non-emergency cases.

If you’re not sure what your local 10-digit non-emergency number is, you can see all of the 10-digit numbers in the NCT9-1-1 region here. If you’re not located in our region, you can usually find the 10-digit number on your local PD or sheriff’s office website.

What is an emergency?

The word “emergency” can sometimes be difficult to define, but most agencies would describe it as a dangerous or life-threatening scenario where a police, fire, or EMS presence is required. Telecommunicators receive all kinds of calls throughout the day and night that have nothing to do with dangerous scenarios, like reports of power outages or missing pets, or sometimes even questions about community events, so be sure to only contact 9-1-1 when you’re in an emergency that requires police, fire, or EMS.

What is the 10-digit number and who does it contact?

If you’re in a situation that you recognize isn’t an emergency, but you still need to contact law enforcement, you can use your local 10-digit number. This number is also answered by telecommunicators, but it won’t tie up the line for emergency 9-1-1 calls.

Some reasons you may call the 10-digit number include:

  • General inquiries toward your local police or sheriff’s office
  • Noise complaints
  • Reports of a crime that occurred in the past
  • Other non-emergency situations

It’s also important to memorize your local 10-digit number in case 9-1-1 should fail. Though this is unlikely, it’s important for you and your family to have a back up plan, and the 10-digit number can still connect you to your local law enforcement agency.

We hope this clarifies the difference between 9-1-1 and your local 10-digit number, and that you have a better understanding of what an emergency is. Remember to only call 9-1-1 if you need a response from police, fire, or EMS.

What You Need to Know about the 9-1-1 SAVES Act

What You Need to Know about the 9-1-1 SAVES Act

The 9-1-1 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act, or H.B. 1629, was introduced into the House of Representatives on March 7, 2019. Since then, there’s been a lot of information about this legislation floating around, and we want to make sure you understand exactly what this act means for the future of 9-1-1.

The act is sponsored by U.S. Representative and former 9-1-1 dispatcher Norma J. Torres. She and former FBI supervisory agent and federal prosecutor Representative Brian Fitzpatrick have been working together on the bipartisan legislation.

“For more than 17 years, I lived through the challenges and stress 9-1-1 dispatchers experience 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dispatchers are a critical link in the public safety chain that help firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement officers do their jobs every day,” said Torres. “I’m proud that the House took this important step forward to give the nation’s 100,000 public safety telecommunicators their due and reclassify them as the protective service occupations that they are.”

Representative Torres recently addressed the floor regarding the act:

What will it change?

Currently, a 9-1-1 telecommunicator is listed as an office and administrative support occupation in regards to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) catalog, which is developed by the United States Department of Labor. This means they are defined by the same standards as postal service workers, receptionists, secretaries, and other similar occupations. The 9-1-1 SAVES act will reclassify the role of a telecommunicator as a protective service occupation, putting them in the same category as firefighters, police officers, correctional officers, and other public safety professions.

Why does it matter?

A number of federal agencies and organizations rely on the SOC catalog for reporting and statistical purposes. By recategorizing telecommunicators to a classification that better suits the ever day reality of their job, theses agencies will have more accurate information to base decisions off of. This change will also allow telecommunicators to identify as first responders in other federal legislation and equip them to make the argument for similar benefits.

When will it pass?

As of today, the 9-1-1 SAVES Act has passed in the House and is on its way to the Senate. It also has a related bill, S.1015, in the Senate that mirrors the language in H.B. 1629. S.1015 has been introduced but has not as yet been assigned to a committee.

The act has to go through the following steps before it becomes law:

What can you do?

As a 9-1-1 telecommunicator, a member of local law enforcement, a community leader, or even as a citizen and constituent, you have pull over your legislators’ decision making. So make sure your voice is heard.

Since the 9-1-1 SAVES Act is currently in the Senate, you can contact your senators and let them know your support for this legislation here.

4 NG9-1-1 Lessons Learned for Introducing New Technology into Your PSAP

4 NG9-1-1 Lessons Learned for Introducing New Technology into Your PSAP

At the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District, we pride ourselves on our commitment to innovation, but we aren’t just after the shiniest, newest tech. We are first always looking out for our PSAPs and telecommunicators, and our job is to help them do their job by giving them the tools, training, and support they need. As Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) continues to gain ground and as more and more new technologies dominate our lives, we have to adopt new digital strategies to accomplish this goal.

Over the years, we’ve adopted a significant number of NG9-1-1 tools, which means we’ve had a lot of experiences that taught us some valuable lessons. We wanted to share these to help other 9-1-1 entities strategize for NG9-1-1 implementation.

Involve your TCs from the start

There’s nothing worse than having a change thrown at you out of the blue. Even if that change is going to help you do your job in the end. Talk to your TCs long before the new change or innovation is implemented and get their opinions on the best way to do it. The more your team hears about the upcoming change, the easier it will be for them to adapt, and they may be able to point something out that you had previously not considered. This means that you need to take their suggestions seriously. Don’t make a show of wanting to hear from the telecommunicators just to please them and then ignore their requests. Though we know that some ideas might not be feasible for implementation, going out of your way to hear concerns and adopt as much as possible will let your team know that you’re on their side.

Before we adopted a lot of our innovative tools, like supplemental location accuracy or crowd-sourced data collecting, we held meetings, focus groups, and other discussions with representatives from our PSAPs so that we could better understand how they would be affected. This was a lesson we learned early on from one of our first NG9-1-1 projects after we were told that our TCs wanted more of a say in the implementation process. Though we included our PSAP Supervisor Committee in these early conversations, our telecommunicators wanted an even more inclusive conversation with other PSAP personnel. We heard them, and we adapted.

9-1-1 Tech Updating PSAP to NG9-1-1
NCT9-1-1 technician during the call-handling solution cutover.

Develop appropriate training that mimics a live environment 

When NCT9-1-1 switched our call-handling solution for all 43 of our PSAPs, we knew that extensive training would be necessary to help our TCs adapt to the change. But we hit a road block when we discovered that some of our PSAPs were encountering different scenarios with the new solution in a live environment that were not present in that controlled training environment. Luckily, our training coordinator was flexible and able to adjust her lessons to meet these needs, but we learned then how important it was to have a training resource that would mimic what our TCs were actually seeing day-to-day.

Training can go beyond your TCs as well. Training the trainer is the first step to ensuring a smooth transition and training the staff members implementing the new solution so that they can answer telecommunicator questions is more valuable than you might think. Everyone involved in the process should know as much information as you can possibly give them, as this allows everyone to be on the same page and prevents miscommunication early on, which can lead to larger consequences down the road.

It’s also important to push for all of your telecommunicators to attend the training sessions, not just one representative as this might cause mistranslations of certain aspects of the system.

Communicate across silos

For a significant technological implementation, there are going to be a lot of people involved, which means a lot of varying opinions. For most of our NG9-1-1 implementations, we had 2 to 3 teams engaged, plus vendors and other stakeholders, and then the telecommunicators themselves. Everyone had a different idea of why this change was happening and what was the best way to do it. Before we realized how important it was to get everyone on the same page early on, we had issues of miscommunication between teams that led to a longer process overall. This meant that our technology team might have one idea of the best way to display a solution, while the operations team had another. Where a compromise could have been identified early on in the planning stages, one instead had to be made in the middle of the project, which slowed things down. Now we make an effort to ensure this discussion is had early on with all participating parties.

Change is coming to 9-1-1 with the adoption of Next Generation and it can improve your telecommunicators’ daily tasks if implemented correctly. Citizens utilize technology more and more, but public safety is still adapting to this new world. By planning ahead and communicating effectively, adopting NG9-1-1 doesn’t have to be overwhelming.