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Next Generation 9-1-1: Beyond the Headset



Let’s start with a question. “What do you think of when you see or hear the term, ‘Next Generation 911?’”

           

I imagine that your head is filled with images of emergency communications centers (ECCs) receiving video clips or still images of emergencies in real time, or a passerby pointing their iPhone in the direction of a motor vehicle accident in response to the question of, “Tell me exactly what is happening.” Or even just the thought of a remote workforce comprised of individuals that can dispatch and process 9-1-1 calls entirely from the comfort of their home offices. Yes, these initiatives are all examples of services and solutions engineered in the name of Next Generation 911 (NG911). However, NG911 isn’t just about the technology being created to revamp our work and make 9-1-1 call processing and dispatching more efficient. It’s about adapting versatile solutions towards creating a faster, more effective, and more reliable system. Some of those solutions extend far beyond CAD or mapping technologies. When I think of NG911, I think of the other, less talked about “next generation,” referring to the generation of telecommunicators who will revolutionize the industry just by asking questions.



Breakthroughs in Mental Health Education

It might seem crazy to think about this now, but once upon a time it wasn’t very acceptable in the world of public safety to admit that a call affected you. In fact, it wasn’t acceptable to ask for help or peer support. As emergency telecommunicators, we used to be instructed to just “leave work at the door” when we clocked out and “just don’t think about the calls.” Resiliency was once touted as this invisible plate of steel that we wore on our heart to keep from letting the aching in. There was no taking breaks off the floor or talking through the emotions with a peer about a call that we just can’t shake or admitting that we weren’t sleeping well and seeking tips and advice to improve our mental state—because having a discombobulated sleep schedule is truly not a badge of honor. But times have changed, with new, young voices in our industry effectively calling for the culture to change as they bring new energy. Now, resiliency is seen as a place of holistic wellness and stability that we can achieve through having the support of our own agency and peers through resources designed to build better awareness of our stressors and ways to understand and manage our feelings.


The newer generations of emergency telecommunicators that help make up this industry, bringing their criticisms and commentary, have shaped so many positive changes as they continue to influence a sector once dominated by very outdated, inflexible perspectives. It was newer generations of headset warriors that led the charge in making it “okay” to admit when you weren’t okay. They brought attention to issues like post-traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue. They called for dispatch to be involved in critical incident stress debriefings following their involvement in situations such as mass casualty incidents, officer-involved shootings, line-of-duty deaths, etc. They dared to counter those aging viewpoints like “leave work at the door” and dared to facilitate conversations around helping those in our profession to have those hard, necessary talks with family members and non-public safety friends on how they can best support them when they just can’t separate their work from their personal lives.



Breakthroughs in the Culture


Who would have envisioned that concepts like “team building exercises,” “fun group activities” or “morale committees” would be so important to ECCs in this day and age? Well, here we are in 2024 and it is widely understood and respected that salary, insurance benefits, and at least some job security are not the all-important factors for recruitment and retention like they were an era ago. People are looking for job satisfaction and emotional fulfillment that comes with a work environment where they actually like what they do. Current and newer generations want to work for organizations that value them as a person; organizations where their thoughts, needs, abilities, professional development, and general wellbeing matter to their immediate supervisors and those above them. It took a few voices to raise the right questions about why public safety shouldn’t revolve around a positive and fun work culture and why we couldn’t encourage wholesome outlets for unwinding after work or building morale through some out-of-the-box creativity.

 


Breakthroughs in Technology


Nine years ago, when I first donned the headset, we were at the mercy of very stagnant concepts in existing technology to locate our callers as accurately as we could. Unfortunately, cell phones weren’t exactly helping the cause and callers were still -- if not more so -- confounded as ever by the question of, “Okay, where exactly are you right now?” Flash forward to now though; we have the cutting-edge technology to determine more precise locations of emergencies for field responders and can even use the caller’s cell phone camera to access a first-hand view of an emergency situation in order to provide the best, most detailed information for responders prior to their even arriving on scene.  For old-timers especially, this all sounds so innovative, right? Correct! Truth be told, a big part of why any of this is now a reality is because years ago dispatchers started asking the tough questions like, “Why is it so hard to know where my caller is located,” and “How can this be better?” As new solutions were brought to the technological forefront of public safety, these inquisitive minds were the first to learn about those innovations, embrace them, advocate for their implementation, and lobby for their funding.


So, what does the future of 9-1-1 hold in store as we continue to recruit and attract Millennials and Gen Z who are looking for that balance between wanting to find their next career and wanting to have an overall quality of life? If we have learned anything from the changes we have seen in the past decade, it’s that as we continue to ask questions and seek ways to improve our ECCs and our work cultures, we will continue to expand our horizons. The next generations will continue to question why we do what we do and pose new counterarguments to make what we do better.

 

 



bySamantha Hawkins CMCP


Samantha is a PSAP Professional and Trainer for Moetivations, Inc. She teaches nationally on a variety of emergency communications topics as well as conducting health and wellness training for law enforcement.  She is currently serving as an Editorial Committee member for the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and holds her Center Manager Certification Program (CMCP) certification.

 



Police Legal Sciences believes in supporting our public safety professionals now and in the future. Our training is designed to teach the whole person under the headset.  We incorporate the breakdown of real life 9-1-1 calls, with training on technology, interpersonal skill building, psychology, and mental wellness. To request a free demo, use the Contact Us link. 

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