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!
Director of 9-1-1, NCT9-1-1