9-1-1 Public Safety Communications is more than just technology

As Director of the Fairfax County, Virginia Department of Public Safety Communications, I have the distinct honor of heading up a new full-service, state-of-the art, next generation 9-1-1 public safety communications center that serves Fairfax County. Our center is co-located with 3 other agencies (the Virginia State Police Dispatch Center, the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management and Emergency Operations Center and the Virginia Department of Transportation Traffic Management Center). It’s a very unique 9-1-1 center. By collaborating, cooperating, co-locating and cost sharing, the sum total of the facility is far greater than its individual parts. We refer to this as the 4 C model. Like many other agencies, we are starting to hear more about what’s coming next in terms of IP-enabled public safety communications.

But as we hear more and more about the promise of Next Gen 9-1-1 technology, we must never loose sight one thing. In front of or behind every new (and existing) technology system is a 9-1-1 call taker, law enforcement/fire/EMS dispatcher, supervisor, director or technician. These are the First of the First Responders, and by all accounts, the Most Unsung of our Unsung Public Safety Heroes. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred sixty five days a year, these dedicated, talented individuals are on the receiving end of each and every 9-1-1 call, of which there are more than 260,000 made daily in the U.S. Their work is rewarding but often only silently recognized. 

Last year (2009) I was fortunate – along with other public safety communications professionals – to have been recognized by NICE Systems as a PSAPs’ Finest Director of the year. In just a few short days, NICE will recognize another group of four outstanding “PSAPs’ Finest” at the annual APCO conference in Houston, Texas.  As a previous recipient of this award, I was invited to be a judge in this year’s awards program and reviewed all of the nominations in each PSAPs’ Finest category. Each nominee was outstanding and deserving of recognition – as are most of the more the 200,000 call takers, dispatchers, supervisors, directors and technicians in the U.S. who work tirelessly to bring emergency services to people on the other end of the line. So the next time you pass a console or piece of equipment being worked on, stop and say “thanks” to the person working there. Because before a blue light flashes on a squad car, before the air horn blasts on a fire truck, before the siren wails on an ambulance, someone had to first answer that 9-1-1 call for help. 

Steve Souder, Director
Fairfax County, Virginia
Department of 9-1-1 / Public Safety Communications

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