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911 Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

911 Accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

What efforts are out there for 911 accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities? The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which passed on July 26, 1990, states that “all Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) must provide direct, equal access to their services for people with disabilities who use a teletypewriter (TTY), which are also known as a ‘telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD).”  

Title II of the ADA specifically addresses the requirements of telephone emergency service providers, which includes police, fire, and EMS. TTY users must have access to 911 or a seven or ten-digit emergency service number. A TTY is a device used with a telephone to communicate with a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing, as it turns telephone tones into letters on a display screen. It is limited as TTY communication can only occur in one direction at a time, therefore two users can’t type to one another at the same time and must take turns sending and receiving. TTYs can also be used over a computer software rather than an isolated machine. 

When traveling within our 911 service area to discuss 911 accessibilityEvo for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, community members claim TTY to be an outdated service that a rare few still rely on. When asked how they would reach 911, most claimed to use video-relay services. These services allow a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing to video conference with an interpreter who then makes a call on their behalf to their local law enforcement office. However, these calls rarely come through on the 911 line, as the interpreter first has to identify the location of the caller and contact the correct law enforcement agency through their seven or ten-digit line. 

Real-Time Text (RTT) has been identified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a replacement for TTY in all instances, including for emergency services. RTT can be activated on any cell phone and used to send messages over a phone call. NCT911 is in the process of launching an RTT pilot project, and the public can follow along and learn more on our resource page here.   

Text-to-911 is also becoming more common across the country and could be a viable way for the Deaf or hard of hearing communities to reach emergency services where it is available. 

911 telecommunicators are trained on utilizing TTY devices and communicating with the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, but as resources such as RTT and text-to-911 are introduced, that training will need to be modified. The industry continues to work on offering accessible, life-saving services as a right to all community members.      

Reflections on 2021

Reflections on 2021

I cannot believe another year has flown by!  Today I dedicated some time to reflection on 2021.  My reflections are not only about the many accomplishments at NCT9-1-1, but also a chance to remember some lessons learned and set some new goals for following our strategic plan in the coming year.  The word for the year has been “courage,” and we have needed that!  Courage is not the absence of fear but facing your fears and pressing onward.  It is exhibiting strength and perseverance in hard times.

Courage was exhibited throughout the year as our organization transitioned from working from home to a hybrid office environment.  I thought transitioning to home was tough, but there were far more people struggling with returning to the office and settling into a “new normal,” which includes time at home, in the office, training, presenting, and even travelling.  Our team demonstrated courage as they implemented our first cloud-based solution (dispatch mapping) virtually.  They overcame numerous obstacles and worked through interpersonal issues as we forged through isolation and a lack of face-to-face meetings.  Our team recognized that good mental health is vital to our telecommunicators and re-branded our training to be centered on the wellness of our people.  They are courageous enough to talk about the difficult subjects and are gathering resources to assist our telecommunicator family.  While not easy or fast, they hosted hybrid telecommunicator academies with necessary safety precautions and persevered through several interruptions.  The team worked for several months overcoming roadblocks from multiple avenues in order to become a FEMA-certified IPAWS Alerting Agency in order to inform the public of 9-1-1 service interruptions.  They conducted a 3D mapping pilot with a local university. While most people were still identifying the problems with federal Z-axis requirements and telecommunicators receiving unactionable data,, this team showed courage by identifying and testing potential solutions. Facing frustration after over two years of trying to implement Real Time Text (RTT) in the region, this team of technologists and operations experts worked with vendors and wireless providers to continue down the path, making many modifications along the way.  There were few people ahead of them on this journey, so the team had to walk into the unknown and step out of all comfort zones in order to send requests to each of the wireless carriers to implement the service.  We look forward to seeing this courage pay off with a successful implementation next year and sharing the lessons learned with ECCs around the country so they can implement RTT as well.

While these are courageous actions and impressive accomplishments, I would like to highlight who this team is instead of just focusing on what they have done.  NCT9-1-1 is made up of amazing people behind the scenes that have a passion for 9-1-1 and improving services for the people in our region.  They are compassionate, always checking on co-workers living alone and opening up their homes for peers affected by a crushing winter storm.  They responded to victims of Hurricane Ida by sending a TERT team and adopting some ECCs and sending care packages. The NCT9-1-1 staff worked with Tarrant County 9-1-1 to collect over 1600 items for those in need in our communities this holiday season and many of them volunteered at the local food bank.  They turned the National Early Adopter Summit into a virtual event with less than a month to plan and execute, which meant extra work and pulling together as a team.  This team lives a “family first” culture, and they support each other through hard times and struggles.  I am so proud of the members of our team and want everyone to know what wonderful people work day in and day out to support the 9-1-1 system in our region.  They are not only courageous but also have heart and consistently display good attitudes.  They are servant leaders!

Speaking of good people . . .  I have been a champion for positive change in 9-1-1 utilizing new technology.  I still believe in the technology, but I am changing my focus to a people first approach.  I urge you to join with me in asking: “What do our people need to successfully implement Next Generation 9-1-1?”  I know the industry will need to enhance our training, modify our hiring and retention practices, provide more mental health resources, revise our Standard Operating Procedures, initiate more wellness programs, and educate the public.  However, I suspect there will be much more.  We need to hold focus groups and determine what the problems are with 9-1-1 from the viewpoint of the telecommunicator.  We need their input and suggestions.  We need to focus on the people first!

That brings me to the word for 2022. . . “connections.”  I challenge you all to make new connections, building relationships and a network.  I hope you will also deepen the connections you have today.  Reach out to someone and see how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help.  Even if you cannot help them, you can listen to them and support them through difficult times. Appreciate others and recognize what they are doing for our industry or your organization.  Collaborate on projects that could be done jointly or brainstorm on common problems.   Share what you learn with others.  Pass on the information you have been privileged to receive.  Don’t make others re-create the wheel.  Let’s all work together to solve our 9-1-1 problems.  We are “9-1-1 Strong,” but we can be even stronger together.  Join me in saving lives and making a difference!  Happy New Year!

What To Do If You Have An Emergency on Christmas Day

What To Do If You Have An Emergency on Christmas Day

Holidays, including Christmas, are almost always high traffic days for your local Emergency Communications Center (ECC). Something about gathering estranged family members together, driving in less-than-ideal conditions, and spending hours cooking extremely flammable holiday dinners makes this time of year very busy for public safety professionals. How do you stay on top of potential emergencies to avoid having to call 911 on a day that’s supposed to be filled with cheer? 

911 is for Emergencies Only  

Our first piece of advice is to remember that you should not be calling 911 unless you’re experiencing an emergency that requires a response from police, fire, or EMS professionals. Since most holidays are already busy for your local 911 telecommunicators, dialing 911 for anything other than one of those types of services is taking resources away from someone who might actually need them. Keep the lines clear for people in life-threatening situations, especially on high traffic days like Christmas.

Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best 

During the winter season, we North Texans deal with an unusual weather pattern. One day you’re in danger of heat stroke, and the next week you’re worried about icy roads. Stay prepared for any possible situation this winter by loading up on any necessary supplies. It is recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) that you keep at least two-week’s worth of food and water stockpiled in case of an emergency. Though we hope you don’t have to break into your stockpiled food during the holidays, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Driving in icy conditions can be dangerous, so it’s also recommended that you take precautions to avoid accidents by ensuring you have enough air in your tires and driving slowly. Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle such as a first aid kit, flares, blankets, and kitty litter or sand. 

If you’re cooking this year, maintain kitchen safety precautions. Don’t leave stovetops unattended and keep an eye on any children. And if you’re frying a turkey, be sure to do your research for a proper set up to avoid a burnt lawn or, worse, house! 

Don’t Hang Up 

If you do happen to experience an emergency on a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas and need to dial 911, be sure to stay on the line until your call is answered. Though it is rare, during high traffic times you may have to wait to have your call answered, and some callers are tempted to hang up and redial. Don’t do this. This puts your call back at the end of line. Stay on the line until a 911 telecommunicator answers, and then listen carefully and answer all questions and instructions. Have your location information ready to relay as this is the best way to ensure a fast response time.   

The holidays are stressful, but don’t make them harder than they need to be by being unprepared. If you do need assistance from emergency services during a major holiday, stay calm, stay on the line, and answer all of the 911 telecommunicators questions for a fast response.  

A 2021 Thanksgiving Message

A 2021 Thanksgiving Message

The pandemic has reminded me how important relationships and connections can be.  I think I took them and personal contact for granted prior to lockdown.  As we begin getting back out of our homes, I am so thankful for our state and national associations that can bring us together to learn and to connect personally.  While it was great to experience all the virtual training and conferences, I am so excited to see people face-to-face again.   Our associations are providing opportunities for networking, sharing lessons learned, forming new relationships and contacts as well as re-connecting with old friends.  These events offer chances to contribute, serve, and get involved.  I remember back in 2012 when I committed to run for national office with NENA.  I had gotten so much from the association for years, and I wanted a chance to give back.  I was well into my journey to Next Generation 9-1-1 with over 40 small to mid-size ECCs, and I wanted to share real stories and encourage others to start their NG journey as well.  What I didn’t count on was the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people as I was able to travel to numerous state conferences.  Each one was different, but the same.  They all shared a mission to advance our industry and opportunities to meet amazing people with incredible ideas and passion.  While I was not always successful in championing change and inspiring people to step away from the legacy mindset; I was blessed with new friendships, a network of subject matter experts to help me navigate my own journey, and hours and hours of sessions that taught me what others were doing around the country.  It was an honor and privilege, and I will forever be grateful.  I remain a technology and change champion for the 9-1-1 industry, but I am most thankful for the people I have gotten to meet who have taught me so much.

I am so thankful to all the people that helped me grow into the person I am today.  I talk about being a servant leader, but how did I become one myself?  With a lot of help, I assure you.  I have been blessed by so many people throughout my education and career.  Of course, it actually started much earlier than that.  I am thankful for my wonderful parents who instilled my core value system and encouraged me from the time I was born to present day.  I also had some pretty wonderful teachers in school and college.  The best ones challenged me and gave me a desire to grow and always do my best.  I am most thankful that they taught me to love learning.  I am thankful for each of the bosses I have had and the different things I have learned about my jobs and myself from them.  And isn’t it wonderful that we can also learn from our peers, people in organizations and committees, and mentors.  I am thankful for all the people in the 9-1-1 industry that have answered my incessant questions, counseled me through challenging times, shared their experiences and given me advice.  I am thankful that many people in this industry have become my friends.  These friends make me laugh when I feel like crying, they brainstorm with me and encourage me to achieve dreams I didn’t even know I had.  I have been blessed with the most amazing co-workers who are passionate, intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to improving 9-1-1 services.  I have also had the opportunity to work with the best telecommunicators who keep me focused on the mission.  These TCs are trusting and are willing to try new things in order to improve public safety communications.  They stand with NCT9-1-1 in our mission of saving lives and making a difference.

As I count my blessings, I hope that you can too.  It is wonderful to have a time of the year when we reflect on our lives and give thanks.  As I realize how many people have helped me learn and grow, I hope that I will remain thankful not just for Thanksgiving, but year round!