History

NYS 911 Coordinators’ Association

The year was 1996; the location was Troy, NY, home of Uncle Sam Wilson, the local butcher who became the original “Uncle Sam.” Counties all across the State had been implementing Basic 911 for several years and about 2/3 of the New York State counties were implementing Enhanced 911 programs.

Rensselaer County was part of that group engaged in the process of designing their Enhanced 911 service. The County had recently installed David A. Cook as their new Director of Emergency Services, and had engaged the services of Charles Gabriel from Onondaga County for consulting expertise. During that period in 911 history, NYS State law placed the responsibility for 911 services in the hands of the counties. For the counties that were not engaged, the New York State Police were charged by the Legislature to answer and process 911 calls for service.

Commercially, Bell Atlantic and Frontier Communications were the two major service providers of 911 trunk lines. Every wire-line phone bill included a monthly service charge of 30 cents that was set by the State and was to be used to offset the cost of 911 programs. However, the money went to the State Police Seized Assets account and was used to help offset the State Police general budget.

The State was clear that the Counties were responsible for delivering 911 services and monies were charged to the public for that service. However, the State offered no guidance or assistance on how the 911 technology was to be designed, nor how the services were to be delivered. Counties were forced to hire expert advice, and struggle through the creation of policies, procedures, staffing, training, anticipated call volume, furniture, backup systems and so on. There were far more questions than answers and very little experience in the State to fall back on. What was plentiful was a plethora of County Coordinators all struggling individually to answer the same questions and funding issues.

As David Cook and Charles Gabriel addressed the questions in Rensselaer County, Charlie suggested reaching out to a few of the County Coordinators who were farther along with their programs than Rensselaer County was. Specifically at issue was the number of 911 trunk lines required for Rensselaer County based on the population and anticipated call volume. Bell Atlantic completed their calculations and made their recommendation. Charlie Gabriel disagreed and felt they were requiring way too many lines.

The reason this was an issue was the monthly cost per line was very high and increasing the number of lines increased the operational budget for the Rensselaer County Bureau of Emergency Services tremendously. The number of trunk lines was a significant issue. So, Charlie recommended contacting a few Coordinators to determine how their call volume per population calculated out per trunk line.

David embraced the suggestion and decided to expand the idea to include other issues at hand such as policies and procedures, equipment, staffing and so on. He approached Rensselaer County Executive, Henry F. Zwack, and suggested the County invite all of the Coordinators in the State to a meeting to discuss “911”. The County Executive fully supported the idea and approved the first meeting, suggesting the location to be the Sterling Winthrop Research Labs in East Greenbush, New York, and the location where Bayer Aspirin was first developed.

Letters were electronically mailed out to every 911 Coordinator in New York State along with the NYS Police, and the date was set in the fall of 1996. The day was Wednesday and the weather was beautiful and about 40 counties and the State Police had representatives in the audience. The meeting was launched and discussions were very productive and engaging. Starting in the morning, breaking for lunch, and concluding in the afternoon, there was a strong amount of unanimity, and consensus that the issues facing Rensselaer County were the same issues most of the other counties were attempting to resolve. The group consensus was the meeting was most productive and David was asked to host another gathering in the spring of 1997 to discuss progress.

So in the spring, invitations were again sent to every coordinator and the State Police and this meeting yielded more attendees. Around this point, Charles Gabriel suggested making the group into a formal association with the goal of organization and State recognition, and David was asked by his counterparts to be the first chairperson, which he readily accepted. The third meeting was hosted by Kevin Karn in Sullivan County in the lobby of the County airport where the coordinators pulled tables and sofas together and held very productive discussions.

From that point on hosts volunteered their facilities, tours were given, problems were openly discussed, solutions were identified, many new friendships were created, and the beginning of standardized approach to answering 911 was becoming a reality. A major new technology, called Computer Aided Dispatching (CAD) was in its infancy, and the whole approach to responding to emergency calls for assistance from a single emergency number available anywhere in the Country was rapidly becoming a reality in New York State. Credit must be given to those early pioneers throughout the State for their dedication has without a doubt saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars. They truly formed every foundation for today’s state-of-the-art 911 Call Centers.

The New York State 911 Coordinators’ Association is now one of the most organized and productive 911 associations in the Country.

Respectfully submitted, David A. Cook


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