In her decades of service to public safety, 2018 PSAPs’ Finest Line Supervisor of the Year, Pinellas County (FL) Regional 911’s Elli Childs, has weathered many storms. A highly respected professional, Elli has been a supervisor with Pinellas County Regional 911 for almost 28 years. She has helped lead the department through the implementation of Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD), Emergency Fire Dispatch (EFD) and a major consolidation which more than doubled the center’s staff.
In June of 2017, when the former Pinellas County 911 center manager retired unexpectedly after 34 years of service, Elli was the obvious choice to fill the vacant slot. Even though she was asked multiple times by management to apply for the position, Elli respectfully declined. Elli was planning to retire and felt the center needed more stability. But she ultimately agreed to step in as interim 911 Manager until the position could be filled permanently.
Making changes in a 911 center is always tough, but it’s especially challenging during hurricane season in Florida. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened with the departure of the prior 911 center manager. Less than 3 months after the former manager’s department, Hurricane Irma struck Pinellas County. Elli took on the responsibility of managing the 911 Center just before the storm hit.
Managing a large-scale 911 Center (with 42 positions processing 1.2 million calls a year) is challenging on a good day. When Hurricane Irma approached Pinellas County, a tremendous amount of preparation was required in a very short timeframe. While emergency procedures are reviewed on a routine basis, few Pinellas County telecommunicators and supervisors have ever had to use them, and never for an event of this magnitude. For example, scheduling personnel for a disaster is a major endeavor. Who do you bring in? When do they work and for what duration? How many people are needed? What positions and hours should one schedule the most senior telecommunicators vs. those who’ve just completed training? Coordinating with Law Enforcement, Fire & EMS agencies, Emergency Management, Utility services and other governmental agencies was also critical. Space was also an issue. Where do you fit over 100 people who would potentially have to eat and sleep in the 911 center for days? These are just a few of the things Elli had to think about.
Elli quickly went to work. She set up an incident command system to define each person’s role before, during and after the storm. Running on very little sleep, Elli maintained her composure. She also had to prepare her staff, both physically and mentally for what was about to take place. During the height of the storm, it was apparent that Fire and EMS units were not going to be able to continue responding to calls due to high winds, potential flooding, and downed power lines. The process of temporarily suspending emergency calls for service, yet maintaining all of the data so calls could be triaged and dispatched once it was safe for first responders, was also a huge challenge.
In the final analysis, Elli did a phenomenal job handling the natural disaster and was applauded for her superb leadership. For her efforts, she was also recognized by her peers as the PSAPs’ Finest Line Supervisor of the Year.
Recently I had an opportunity to talk to Elli about what she loves most about her work and what being recognized as PSAPs’ Finest Line Supervisor of the Year has meant to her.
What attracted you to a career in public safety communications?
Elli: Initially my attraction was looking for a government job and getting out of the private sector. However, I wanted a job that was challenging and enabled me to help people. When I read the illustrative tasks for the position, I kept saying to myself, “I can do that, that sounds very rewarding.” Also, everything that I knew and read about this industry implied it was rewarding and fulfilling, and each day was different. Most importantly it was a job where I could impact outcomes.
What is your most memorable career experience?
Elli: My most memorable experience is being released to work independently as a fully trained 911 call-taker/radio operator back in 1988. I knew then that this was just the start for me and I wanted to do more and be more in this industry. Sometimes as we move through the career ladders you don’t have as much of a chance to be on the phones. However, I believe all supervisors and managers need to always look back to where they started, so they can remember the challenges telecommunicators face on the phones and radios each day. This helps us to keep looking for ways to simplify a very demanding and stressful job.
What do you most love about what you do?
Elli: What I love most is helping people and trying to make a difference, one call at a time. I believe in what we do. I also love teaching others how to do the job, and helping them understand the importance and impact of what they do – handling citizens’ calls.
What advice would you have for others thinking about a similar career path?
Elli: Be sure to familiarize yourself with the positives and negatives of this industry. In most cases, you will be working in a 24-hour organization and there are some challenges (short staffing, lots of overtime, working weekends and holidays). However, if you truly have a desire to help people and make a difference, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Always remember to treat your callers the way you would want someone to treat your friends or family if they were experiencing the same type of emergency. Also, remember that how you handle a call can impact the outcome and leave an everlasting impression on your caller.
What does it mean to be recognized with a PSAP's Finest Award?
Elli: It is one of the greatest honors of my 30-year career. For me, it validates that this was the correct career choice for me and that I can and do make a difference. I appreciate that there are so many entities that take the time to shine the spotlight on our industry, and the people who work tirelessly each and every day to keep our citizens safe, while also developing technologies that can help us better support our citizens, law enforcement, and fire/first responders.
PSAPs' Finest Awards
Know someone you'd like to nominate for a PSAPs' Finest award? Nominations for the
2019 PSAPs' Finest Awards will open in January 2019. Individuals interested in submitting a nomination can nominate someone in any of these seven categories:
PSAP of the Year.
Since its inaugural year, the PSAPs' Finest Awards program has recognized more than fifty deserving individuals employed in the field of emergency communications. Winners are selected by an independent judging panel from the 911 community, which evaluates the nominees based on their professionalism, accomplishments, and service to their communities. Learn more by visiting the PSAPs' Finest Award program website here: