(Please note this article has been updated to clarify that the Newtown Emergency Communications Center was presented with two awards during the NENA conference.)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Each year, millions of people dial three lifesaving digits in moments of crisis: 9-1-1. On any given day, in any community, the 911 center (dispatch) can be flooded with calls requiring extraordinary attention and composure.
During the 2013 National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Conference & Expo, held June 15-20 in Charlotte, N.C., NENA recognized a number of 911 professionals who were forced to grapple with unprecedented, tragic events in their communities in the past year. The June 18 presentation of a NENA/The 911 Association Presidential Award to Newtown’s Emergency Communications Center was unexpected for its director. It was also the second award Ms Will was presented with during the conference.
“The [Newtown dispatch] Center had received recognition from 911Cares the night before [on June 17], along with the ladies from West Texas and the staff from Massachusetts,” Maureen Will, director of Newtown Emergency Communications Center, told The Bee on Monday, June 24. Newtown’s team was praised for its work in handling calls “from frantic parents and community members during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting,” NENA said via press release.
Ms Will was at the conference, she said, to present a program called “Lessons Learned,” which was done on June 19, “to a packed room,” she reported.
In that program attendees received an overview of the events of 12/14 from the communications standpoint, and discussed and analyzed the initial call intake, coordinated response efforts, media interactions, and lessons learned by Newtown’s team that can be used by dispatch centers elsewhere.
During an awards ceremony on the morning of Tuesday, June 18, NENA Executive Board President Barbara Jaeger, speaking to a crowd of nearly 2,000 professionals, government leaders and telecommunications specialists from across the country and even around the world, praised dispatchers for their professionalism.
“In an elementary school in Newtown, on the stormy streets of New York and New Jersey, and the terrorized streets of Boston, in a small town in Texas — people in the most dire situations reached out for help by calling 911,” Ms Jaeger said.
“In every one of those critical, anxious moments,” she continued, “the calm and professional voice of a 911 dispatcher made all the difference.”
For Ms Will, the award was heartwarming.
“The room was filled with our peers, and that love and support from them all was amazing,” she said. Receiving the plaques, she said, “was a total surprise and shock for all of us.”
The plaque’s wording says in part that the award was “presented to Newtown Police Communications in appreciation and recognition of extraordinary commitment to public safety and service to the community when most needed.”
In addition to Ms Will and Newtown’s dispatchers, individuals recognized on behalf of their agencies by NENA for their service were Chris Carver, representing the Fire Dispatch Operations of New York, who worked tirelessly through the havoc caused by Super Storm Sandy; Dispatchers Phillip D’Agostino and Brock Kennedy, representing the Watertown (Mass.) Police and Fire Communications Center, where they manned phones, tracked a hijacked car’s movements, and coordinated with police units to set the stage for the killing of one bombing terrorist and the capture of another following the Boston Marathon events of April 15; and Dispatchers Shannon Barrington and Robyn Raschuig representing the Waco (Texas) Police Department, who coordinated first responders by using CAD maps (a system of map-based dispatching that allows functions to be performed directly on a live map) to direct units to the scene of a massive industrial explosion.
“Some days put us in situations we could never envision, and we are forced to trust our training, come together, and rise to the occasion to keep the public safe and let them know that someone is out there, ready to help,” Ms Jaeger said in recognizing the agencies and their work.
NENA also honored one of the organization’s past presidents, John Ellison, with the prestigious William E. Stanton Award for Mr Ellison’s continued devotion to and advocacy of public safety and 911.