Looking Ahead to Tomorrow

Editor’s Note: The following is the first of five articles describing innovations in emergency communications.

By Audrey Fraizer

Nothing stops in emergency communications and the same applies to the industry leaders. They will stop at nothing to meet the challenges of personnel, equipment, interoperability, and chain of command to stay ahead of the curve without losing sight of today in the quest for tomorrow.

And realizing the challenges are both universal and open to the exchange of ideas and practices.

That’s a long way of getting around to the emergency communications “think tank” of public and private 911 leaders willing to diverge from standard practice to more out-of-the-box approaches in addressing issues in public safety. Disruptors in the public sector are not common where resources are limited and there is a tendency toward resistance to change. Crowded schedules, staff turnover, and day-to-day operational oversight don’t encourage the effort necessary to brainstorm and test.

But something had to give. Christy Williams, director, North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1), knew someone had to step forward to encourage a roundup of new ways in getting things done.

“The challenges don’t go away, and it takes innovative thinkers to lead the way to improve emergency response,” Williams said.

Williams approached Liz Graeber, 911 administrator for Maricopa County, Arizona (USA), and James Lake, director, Charleston County Consolidated 911 center, South Carolina (USA), about creating a format to share ideas and actual practices. All three are known 911 leaders possessing the tenacity and resolve to face challenges head-on with forethought, research, and the necessary caution.

Their “Early Adopter Summit,” as it is called, is now entering its fourth year. The three-day summit attended by private and public sector representatives introduces innovative thinking to shared issues. The ideas and practices presented are not necessarily applicable across the board, nor are they meant to be. Discussion helps determine if the project presented is the right choice is addressing an issue specific to an emergency communication center.

It’s the sharing of these ideas—and how they work in practice—that distinguishes the group.

“We’re building a community of 911 innovators,” said Amelia Mueller, 911 Communications Coordinator, NCT9-1-1.

The summit has formed a network of like-minded thinkers and doers driven to enhance 911 communications and response. Talks in 2019 included innovations in artificial intelligence, cyber security, social media, drones, alarms, personnel and operations, and geographic information system (GIS) mapping.

The summit is by invitation only both by design and intent. The hosting agencies (so far NCT9-1-1 and the Charleston County Consolidated 911 centers) have limited space and the summit adheres to a strict schedule of 20-minute “lightning talks” from private and government/public representatives.

Williams anticipates opening the venue to a larger audience. They are not out to replace NENA, APCO, or industry events like the IAED NAVIGATOR conference. The summit fills a gap of what she perceived was missing from the emergency communications table.

And if you are an adopter/innovator who hasn’t received an invitation?

“It is only because we have not found you yet,” Lake said.

For more information, Williams can be emailed at cwilliams@nct911.org.

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