Monday, January 11, 2010

NENA letter written by Craig Whittington to NBC

The letter below is from the current President of NENA to NBC in response to the Today Show airing last week. Momentum for National training and certification standards is building!!

To all NENA members and 9-1-1 professionals proudly serving in our nation's PSAP's. The follow letter was sent to NBC Last Friday...

Craig W

Craig Whittington, ENP
9-1-1 & Special Projects Coordinator
Guilford Metro 9-1-1
Greensboro, NC
NC NENA 9-1-1 Hall of Frame

National Emergency Number Association (NENA)

On Thursday, January 7, NBC's Today show ran a segment entitled, "911 [sic] Emergency: Are Operators Ready for Your Call?" Like anyone who saw this report, my heart goes out to Ms. Cantrell and her family. The loss of a child, especially one as young as Matthew, is every parent's worst nightmare. Mr. Rossen's report highlighted a number of the most pressing issues facing 9-1-1 today, including insufficient training requirements and standards, the
raiding of state 9-1-1 funds, and a lack of strong coordination and oversight at both the state and federal levels.

However, I regret that the story did not adequately represent the reality of 9-1-1 service in this country. Americans have come to expect a high quality of service when dialing 9-1-1, and rightly so; the public's expectations have been generated because our nation's emergency communications professionals have provided the public they serve with reliable, consistent, timely, and professional service literally billions of times since the nation's first 9-1-1 system was implemented just more than forty years ago.

Since the beginning, 9-1-1 has continuously and successfully adapted to changes in communication technologies and devices (cell phones, Voice over IP, etc.), overcoming a lack of funding, cooperative and proactive system planning and deployment, or comprehensive, nationwide standards for training of 9-1-1 telecommunicators. While the calls highlighted in the Today segment (including a Detroit call taker chastising a young boy for calling 9-1-1 and another telecommunicator falling asleep during a call) provide ample fodder for television and print stories, they are certainly the extreme exception and not the rule when it comes to everyday 9-1-1 center operations.

Additionally, no 9-1-1 call taker should ever be blamed if their local government or 9-1-1 Authority has not implemented practices designed to help telecommunicators save lives, such as Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD).

These implementations are major local policy decisions involving the 9-1-1 center, the local government, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provider, and Medical Director in order to ensure proper training, oversight, and regular audit and review. The decision to use EMD cannot be made at the discretion of the telecommunicator working in the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Further, just "knowing CPR" as discussed in Mr. Rossen's interview with Ms. Cantrell does not sufficiently prepare a telecommunicator to provide CPR instructions over the phone. Walking a caller to 9-1-1 through a medical procedure, even one that may seem as basic as CPR, requires that an approved EMD training and certification provider certify the telecommunicator in EMD and that the 9-1-1 agency have an ongoing and approved EMD program (most often operated under strict state guidelines and inclusive of a regular Quality Assurance and Improvement process to assure compliance with the EMD program).

Nevertheless, no call for help should ever be mishandled. Any tragedy occurring because of a lack of training, supervision, or other shortfall of the 9-1-1 system is simply unacceptable. I, along with the thousands of NENA Members across North America, stand beside APCO President Mirgon, his association's membership, Congresswoman Eshoo, and the Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus in our commitment to working with all stakeholders in the emergency communications field, including decision makers at all levels of government, to ensure that our nation's 9-1-1 professionals are trained and equipped to deliver the same
high-level service to every caller - no matter where they live or travel or what device they use to contact 9-1-1. That is why NENA, in no uncertain terms, supports the development and implementation of standardized, mandatory, nationwide training requirements for every 9-1-1 telecommunicator serving in each of our nation's more than 6,000 PSAPs.

Further, in order to ensure that all Americans have access to the 9-1-1 service they expect and deserve, the patchwork technical solutions of the past will no longer suffice. Our nation's safety and security from threats both natural and manmade necessitate a new approach. As was alluded to during the Today story, most states underfund the vital system and infrastructure upgrades that are needed to ensure that 9-1-1 is able to effectively and efficiently handle all calls. The public and policy makers must be made aware of the need for an IP-based Next Generation emergency communications system that harnesses the power of broadband to ensure that all entities in the response chain can communicate and transmit voice, images, and data seamlessly.

In closing, I am sure we can agree that 9-1-1 personnel are our nation's first first responders and their training must be of the highest possible caliber. Each and every dollar spent on the training of our 9-1-1 professionals should be looked at as an investment in the quality of life for the community they serve and NOT as just another government expense. No one should ever call 9-1-1 for assistance and not get the very best trained public safety professional (with access to the best available technological resources) to answer their call for help. Lives depend on it.

I look forward to working with NBC and all other media outlets on future stories fully portraying both the successes and shortfalls of the 9-1-1 system as we work to educate and inform the public and government officials about the challenges faced by public safety professionals every day and how we can work together to solve them.


Craig Whittington, ENP
NENA President