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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

Emergency Apps and Other Tools You Can Use to Help 9-1-1 Help You

Emergency Apps and Other Tools You Can Use to Help 9-1-1 Help You

9-1-1 is there to help during an emergency, but there are plenty of emergency apps, tools, and accessories that can help your local agency. Of course, the best way to reach 9-1-1 is still a voice call (followed by a text message if it’s available in your area), but using one of these resources can help 9-1-1 telecommunicators help you.

Emergency Health Profile

During the coronavirus pandemic, four non-profit organizations partnered with a 9-1-1 industry vendor to create the Emergency Health Profile Association. Signing up for an emergency health profile allows your information such as your name, address, pre-existing conditions, medications, emergency contacts, and more to be shared with a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP or call center) when you dial 9-1-1. The health information you provide is not Protected Health Information covered by HIPPA, but rather is subject to the profile’s privacy policy

This information is provided through the RapidSOS, which is not an emergency app but a company that supplies a database to store additional information for 9-1-1 telecommunicators and is free to use for participating agencies. However, not all PSAPs utilize RapidSOS, though they are found in 4,700 PSAPs in the United States. All of PSAPs within the NCT9-1-1 service area are equipped to access RapidSOS. If you are unsure whether your local agency can utilize this data, you can always call them on their 10-digit number.      

What3Words

What3Words is a free mobile application that you can download to help identify your location and the locations of relevant landmarks, either in an emergency or just in general. They’ve divided the world into parking-space size squares and assigned three words to each square. For example, The Alamo in San Antonio has been assigned Axed.Limbs.Hops. By sending those three words to a friend or to a 9-1-1 call taker, they can plug the information into the desktop application to identify your location. You can look up the three words for your home address here.

Of course, this information is only useful if a 9-1-1 call taker is able to look up what location coordinates with the three words. The emergency number industry is starting to integrate this application with its tools, and NCT9-1-1 will soon implement a mapping platform that uses What3Words.

iPhone Health App

iPhones offer an in-house Health App that can be used to document pre-existing conditions, medications, and other information on your medical ID profile. You can also choose to have your medical ID information displayed on the lockscreen, which includes your name, age, and emergency contacts.

PSAPs who opt in to receive the information from the emergency health app will be able to view it during a 911 call and it is also seen if the Apple Watch fall detection feature is activated. Again, this information is only available to some PSAPs, so it’s still important to relay your medical information to the call taker during an emergency when possible.

InvisaWear

The jewelry brand sells necklaces, bracelets, and keychains that include charms with hidden panic buttons. By pressing the back of the charm twice, an alert is sent via the InvisaWear app to five emergency contacts chosen by the wearer. These contacts receive a GPS location and S.O.S alert in a text message, and there is also an optional contact 9-1-1 feature. 

There are a lot of emergency accessory brands that claim to reach 9-1-1 if activated, but it’s difficult to prove if the claims are true. InvisaWear is another organization that has partnered with RapidSOS, meaning agencies that utilize the services provided by RapidSOS have access to InvisaWear alerts.    

A 9-1-1 telecommunicator will do whatever they can to identify your location and get help to you, but by downloading these emergency apps or utilizing one of the tools, you can get important information into the 9-1-1 agency faster.    

Press Release: Dublin Police Department No Longer Answering 9-1-1 Calls

Press Release: Dublin Police Department No Longer Answering 9-1-1 Calls

Dublin, TX, October 28, 2020 –  Today the Dublin Police Department closed its Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and will no longer answer 9-1-1 calls or dispatch responses. 9-1-1 calls made by citizens of Dublin will now be answered by the Erath County Sheriff’s Office located in Stephenville, Texas. 

The Dublin Police Department was a two position PSAP that received 1,124 9-1-1 calls over the past year. The Erath County Sheriff’s Office has four positions and received 21,000 calls. Dublin officers will still respond to calls made within their jurisdiction.

Both the Dublin Police Department and the Erath County Sheriff’s Office are located within the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) service area. NCT9-1-1 is committed to providing PSAPs with the best resources and tools to serve citizens with a particular focus on early adoption in the emergency number industry. This includes text-to-9-1-1 and supplemental location for wireless calls. This superior level of service will continue to be offered to the citizens of Dublin.     

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About the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1)

The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) is responsible for 40 plus Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in the 13 counties surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The district supports these PSAPs through maintaining and upgrading 9-1-1 equipment, providing up-to-date mapping information, training 9-1-1 telecommunicators, educating the public on the proper use of 9-1-1, and monitoring PSAP functionality and compliances. NCT9-1-1 serves a population of 1.7 million and 10,000+ square miles.the best

How To Stay Spooky Safe This Halloween

How To Stay Spooky Safe This Halloween

A lot of things have changed in 2020 and though we never thought we’d go into Halloween concerned about masks (at least, not the kind of masks we usually associate with Halloween!) and social distancing, we’ve found ourselves wondering how to stay safe this Halloween. Luckily, most of the precautionary measures we’re already taking can still keep our families, loved ones, and ourselves safe. We’ve highlighted some ways your family can adapt these precautions to stay spooky safe on October 31!

Stick with Outdoor Events

Haunted houses may be a Halloween staple for you, but experts advise that staying outdoors where you can maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and others is preferred. Unfortunately, most haunted houses don’t allow for this. But there are plenty of outdoor events to attend in North Texas that can help you stay safe this Halloween.  

Where: Canton, Texas

Cost: $18.95 online or $24.95 at the gate. There are deals for group packages and super passes that you can review here.

Nothing says fall like a corn maze. Explore Yesterland Farm’s 3-acre maze as well as their 30 other activities and attractions. Their Spooktacular Nights begin October 2nd – October 31 and that’s when things get spooky! They encourage social distancing, offer hand-washing and sanitizing stations, and ask that guests wear face masks when social distancing is not possible.

Where: Cleburne, Texas

Cost: $19.95 for a weekend pass, but look online for special rates.

Called the Biggest Backyard in Texas, Mainstay Farm Park in Cleburne offers over 40 outdoor attractions on its grounds including a seasonal pumpkin patch, hayride, and more! With acres of activities spread throughout the farm, Mainstay requests visitors practice social distancing and other precautionary measures to protect their staff and guests.  

Little girl at a pumpkin patch

Where: Midlothian, Texas

Cost: $10 per person, free for 2 and under or 55 and older, and $8 for veterans or first responders.

A $10 pass will get you a whole day of corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin games, and more! The 10 acre park has a lot of fall festivities for every age group. The farm has adopted the “care+” mentality in response to COVID-19 and commits to providing hand sanitizing/washing stations, making sanitizing common areas a top priority, encouraging social distancing and mask wearing, and other precautions. 

Where: Dallas, Texas

Cost: $12.00 – $17.00

If you’ve never experienced Autumn at the Arboretum, this is your chance! Every year the Dallas Arboretum highlights the “art of the pumpkin” with a festive display of more than 90,000 pumpkins, gourds, and squash. It’s a great photo opportunity for the Instagrammer in all of us! To avoid overcrowding, guests book a reservation for a four-hour time slot and masks are required for those aged five and up.    

Follow the Guidelines of Your Community

Communities have been affected by COVID-19 in different ways, so to stay safe this Halloween make sure you adapt to what works in your area. If you’re not sure what that means, you can visit Halloween 2020, which provides a map created by the Harvard Global Health Institute to help families identify what kinds of activities may be safe for their area based on COVID-19 risk levels. 

Keeping Following Standard Precautions 

We’ve all followed the recommendations from the CDC like washing our hands regularly, social distancing, and wearing a mask when distancing isn’t possible. By following these suggestions, you can keep your Halloween safe. You may have to make some changes to your usual traditions, like a costume parade around the neighborhood instead of trick or treating, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a spooky safe Halloween!