9-1-1, 50 years of answering calls for help

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NATCOM Center next step in keeping residents safe

By Willis Carter, 911 Communications District Director Photos by Hannah Richardson Did you know that during 2017, residents, visitors and travelers through Natchitoches Parish called 9-1-1 over 23,000 times? Did you also know that over 50 years ago, in the small town of Haleyville, Ala., the nation’s very first 9-1-1 call was made? On Feb. 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite completed the first 9-1-1 call. Decades later and the Haleyville 9-1-1 system is still in operation and 9-1-1 is one of the most-recognized brands ever created. 9-1-1 services in Natchitoches Parish are steered by a local board of Parish Government appointed commissioners.

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The efforts of these individuals, who volunteer to constantly improve 9-1-1 services are to be commended. The day-to-day business of the District is managed by a 9-1-1 Director with the help from of one staff member, who serves as Address Coordinator. While our focus is always on successfully meeting the expectations of our “customers,” it is important to remember that the term “9-1-1” means different things to many people. For the citizens who reside outside the City of Natchitoches, our 9-1-1 Addressing Office is the first stop in the process of ensuring first responders can locate your home or business in times of emergencies. If you reside inside the city limits of Natchitoches, the City Planning and Zoning Department provides this service.

To the public safety call takers/dispatchers who work for the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Natchitoches Police department, the 9-1-1 District is the provider of a state-of-the art telephone system that receives your call and provides your location to first responders. 9-1-1 also provides the emergency power back-up generators that help keep the call center operating even when commercial power is lost. 9-1-1 also provides funding for special training opportunities for call takers/dispatchers. For the police, fire and emergency medical services first responders across the parish, Natchitoches 9-1-1 shares geographic information technology, including street, road and address point mapping. We even go as far as to provide parish road name signs to help find even the most obscure locations in the parish.

The District also maintains a back-up radio system for use in the event of an outage of the primary system and, the Natchitoches Parish Emergency Warning (Siren) System that alerts to severe weather or other threats. Throughout my public safety career, which spans over 46 years, I have personally witnessed the awesome benefits provided by many of the 9-1-1 systems, which are in use across our nation. The technology, which serves as the backbone of 9-1-1, is amazing, and it continues to evolve every day. Technology alone does not make services great. Critical to 9-1-1’s continued success and growth are the efforts of the dedicated individuals mentioned earlier, who volunteer in service as commissioners along with all of the public safety service agencies who work hand-in-hand with us and provide lifesaving assistance; the manufacturers and vendors who produce and sell the products we use to do our jobs; and the list goes on.

The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call is an opportunity for everyone to recognize the work by 9-1-1 systems and the professionals who operate the systems, especially in Natchitoches Parish. There is another opportunity to not only raise awareness, but to say thanks to those who operate the systems. Former President Bill Clinton established National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week by presidential proclamation April 12, 1994. Each year, the second week in April is set aside to honor and say “thank you” to public safety telecommunicators, who are the “first.. first responders.” This year’s celebration will be the week of April 8-14. These people work tirelessly for long hours and sometimes for low wages, tucked away in the background always ready, willing and able to aid and guide you while serving as a link between those who need help, and those who provide it.

They are the voice on the line that helps in our most desperate and scary moments. Later this spring the Natchitoches Parish Communications District, along with its public safety partners, will open one of Louisiana’s premier Emergency 9-1-1 Communications Centers (NATCOM). The almost 9,000 square foot, $3.2 million facility will provide another opportunity for Natchitoches Parish to set the example of how multiple agencies working together and sharing talent and resources can produce spectacular results. Let us not forget, however, that this facility consists simply of “brick and mortar.” What will give it a “heart and soul” are the individuals who will working within its walls, and within our local public safety community as a whole.

We would like to extend many thanks to everyone, who helped make this become a reality for our parish.