PSAPs’ Finest Honor Roll: Shawn Shear, Communications Center Manager, Thornton 9-1-1 Emergency Communications

​Innovation means different things to different people. In the world of public safety communications innovation means continuously looking for ways to serve the public better, through the latest technology, better trained and equipped employees, and fine-tuned processes.


This year's PSAPs' Finest Innovator of the year, Shawn Shear, has done all of that and more.

She has had an illustrious career in public safety communications, starting as a dispatcher in 1988 in Adams County, a role she describes as being the "calm voice amidst the storms."

Shawn later joined the leadership ranks of Thornton (Colorado) 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center (in 2008) as 9-1-1 center supervisor and was instrumental in helping to get the new standalone center off the ground and running. In 2013 she was promoted to 9-1-1 center manager.

When asked what sets Shawn apart, Andrea Sullivan, who nominated Shawn for the PSAPs' Finest award, said that Shawn is "always willing to listen to ideas and embrace new technologies" and that "she has set a standard of excellence which other centers should aspire to."

Under Shawn's leadership the Thornton 9-1-1 center was upgraded to all the latest technology. The center is text-to-911 capable. Always forward-thinking, Shawn also wanted the center to be able to receive pictures and videos from citizens, so the center set up a special process to do that.

Shawn also ensured that there was encryption on the agency's police radios to protect sensitive police communications. Under her leadership, Thornton was one of the first in the state to do so.

Shawn also led the way in implementing a new Code Red System for the citizens of Thornton. A mass citizen notification system, Code Red was rolled out last year and has been well-received not only by the citizens of Thornton, but by other c​​ity departments as well – who also utilize the system to notify city employees of critical weather incidents.

Shawn also spearheaded a new mapping capability for the department's CAD system which supports the needs of all public safety users in the c​​ity. From dispatch to police to fire, all departments have the tailored functionality they now need thanks to Shawn.

In addition to spearheading innovations for her own department and city, Shawn has taking an active role to drive innovation in the public safety community too. She's a past president of NENA for the state of Colorado. And she made sure Thornton supervisors took part in training committees on a statewide level to help guide state training standards.

According to Ms. Sullivan, Shawn is always thinking ahead, and always has an eye on future trends and how they'll affect not only the c​​​ity of Thornton, but its citizens and first responders as well.

Recently I had an opportunity to talk to Shawn about what she loves most about her work and what being recognized as PSAPs' Finest Innovator of the Year has meant to her.

What attracted you to a career in public safety communications?

Shawn: I was attracted to a career in public safety communications due to the variation in a day's work. I knew each work day would bring new experiences and challenges. I never imagined what life experiences and gratification I would encounter in accepting a communications position 22 years ago. Throughout the years, I have continued to learn something new every day. It is truly an honor to work in an industry with so many dedicated, compassionate professionals.

What is your most memorable career experience?

Shawn: My most memorable career experience was being promoted to the Emergency Communication Center Manager. This was a goal 17 years in the making. I continued to complete a step by step process including training, supervision, leadership and ENP certification. In speaking with and instructing telecommunicators, I am able to share all of the experiences in my career path so they can envision all that the public safety world holds. Sharing the many arenas in public safety continues to be memorable.

What do you most love about what you do?

Shawn: What I love most about my job is the community involvement and education piece of 9-1-1. I love being involved in educating school children on safety and calling 9-1-1. I love interacting with the senior community in instruction of new technologies such as text to 9-1-1, and all platforms in notification systems. I love working with my public safety team and experiencing the professionalism and teamwork in day to day operations, and how each individual becomes part of a critical team during mission critical events. I love how public safety continues to evolve through innovation and technology. With so many sides to public safety communications, what's not to love?

What advice would you have for others thinking about a similar career path?

Shawn: My advice to others choosing this career path is to follow your goal and never look back. Yes, there will be good days and bad days; however, the life experiences and satisfaction gained in aiding others is well worth the training involved. Public safety communicators are the true first responders. We are the calm during the storm. Be the absolute best you can be regardless of the nature of the call for service and never, ever stop learning.

What does it mean to be recognized with a PSAP's Finest Award?

Shawn: Being recognized with a PSAPs' Finest Award gives me a great sense of pride and acknowledgement from my peers. Receiving this award is an affirmation of the vision of innovation and technological advances to the community through front line telecommunicators. This award was only possible because of the support I received from my team and my agency.

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: DirectorLine SupervisorTechnicianTrainer, TelecommunicatorInnovator, and 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 9-1-1 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:​

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