Puzzling Out The Future

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


Completing a jigsaw puzzle takes strategy. Studying the image. Planning. Execution. And once done, asking the proverbial question: Frame or disassemble?

Advice from experts

Before placing your first piece, experts advise good lighting to properly see the colors and patterns on a puzzle. Next, turn all pieces to the picture side up. Sort by color, shape, and texture. Look at the full picture on the box, and separate border pieces from center pieces. Assemble the border mindful of the entire puzzle’s final shape. For example, circular puzzles don’t have square edges. You are now ready to fill in the center, placing pieces together based on the nooks and crannies.

Having trouble? Pieces not fitting together as they should?

Try a fresh perspective. Check for gaps, the possibility of a misplaced piece, or a nook and cranny wedged together (not truly a proper fit). Frustrated? Turn the box left or right or upside down to modify your view of the picture. Try mixing up what you’re working on. Focus on one small goal at a time like finishing the border, building each section, and sorting by details. Consult a fellow puzzle solver for advice.

Focus on the future

If only puzzling out the future was as foreseeable as a jigsaw. As far as the future goes, there’s no picture on a box or exact borders that define the shape of things to come. No permanent nooks and crannies. The pieces of a future tend to change, fall out of place, or never quite complete the picture we intend. For the most part, the original picture morphs into the shape of circumstances—unknown and unpredictable—and the picture requires reassembly. The old pieces no longer stack up.

Yet, like a puzzle solver, we are motivated to think about the future and often worry about it for many reasons. We want the advantage of knowing what will happen and to plan accordingly. Preparation is everything. We know from experience to anticipate the unexpected. If a piece falls out, we can rely on the set of contingency pieces ready to put in place.

COVID-19 is a prime example, although demanding that we find novel colors, shapes, and textures to assemble an entirely new picture we’ve never seen before.

COVID aside, we asked people attending NAVIGATOR what they thought the future might hold for the emergency communication profession. Overall, balance is the key. As learned in our conversations, clarity, confidence, and developing a reliable network of support can guide us in choosing and saving the pieces to use into the future.

Team Building

Ron Two Bulls
Emergency Medical/Fire Dispatch Protocol Coordinator, Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS), Arlington, Illinois (USA), Battalion Chief, Buffalo Grove Fire Department, Illinois (USA)

John Ferraro
Executive Director, NWCDS

Ron Two Bulls and John Ferraro have played to full houses at NAVIGATOR with their game show training session. This year, their joint session took a turn to consensus building as applied to making changes in the emergency communications center. A new implementation of any type—a new CAD system, for example—used to be the purview of NWCDS personnel. If problems arose that affected the agencies they served, NWCDS took the blame. Not anymore. Team building is the way to go. Involve representatives from outside the communication center (fire, police, EMS). “Let responders know that you’re doing it for them,” Ferraro said. Not only does that reinforce the community in public safety, but it also facilitates better understanding between dispatch and response. They learn more about what the other one does, Two Bulls said. “Nobody does anything alone. We're a team. It’s the essence of what we do.”

Encompassing Diversity

Chris Bradford
Program Administrator, Priority Dispatch Corp.™ (PDC™)

My work is to help establish an environment that encompasses a welcomeness for all to excel regardless of who they are. That takes into consideration diversity and helps to facilitate inclusion. My personal opinion on why it has taken so long goes deeper than any one person or organization. It’s a simple flaw we all suffer from in varying degrees. It’s called imperfection, and that is why I feel it’s taken the industry so long to address the issue.

NG911 Readiness

Ty Wooten
Director of Governmental Affairs, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™)

I believe there will be a shift to expand initial training and continuing education as we adopt NG911. As new aspects enter the 911 centers like video, photos, sensor data, telematics, etc., it becomes more critical to ensure that the emergency dispatchers can handle anything they face. NENA’s i3 standard provides the structure upon which we will have the opportunity to adapt to new and ever-evolving technology faster than at any time in the history of 911. Next, the industry must provide ways to ensure training for these new technologies is consistent and accessible to every Emergency Communications Center, no matter their size or finances.

New 911 professionals entering the career must receive foundational knowledge they can build upon through continuing education—done every day— and the experience gained from doing the job. The training provided must inform, but it also must inspire the curiosity to ask the next question. It must improve and evolve the individual and organization to provide a higher standard of care for those we serve.

Managing Low-Acuity Workload

Conrad Fivaz
Medical Director, Priority Solutions Inc.™ (PSI™)

ECNS™ was ready with a Pandemic COVID-19 protocol weeks before the WHO officially declared a pandemic. We were able to do remote implementations and training at EMS centers in record time during the height of the pandemic. During this time, omnichannel access features were expanded allowing for video conferencing as an adjunct medium for the nurses and information sharing with callers and healthcare providers via a secure cloud environment. As the EMS workload keeps increasing and response resources are being tied up at hospitals, managing the low-acuity workload will become increasingly important in order to free up precious resources.


Kyle Evans
Training Coordinator, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office communications center (Florida, USA)

What does it take to succeed in the future? The ideal candidate must be comfortable with ever-changing technology in a fast-paced environment, Evans said. It takes incorporating customer service skills with every caller and responder, understanding of protocol, and the “ability of doing what you have to do so the world can continue as it was.” Who doesn’t say they love helping people? “That’s why most of us are here,” Evans said. “We really never know what the next call will be, so it takes constant training and doing the best you can without getting overwhelmed.”

Advocate for Responsible 911

Nathan Lee
Founder, Denise Amber Lee Foundation

Nathan Lee got involved in emergency communications because he wanted to help others avoid the tragedy that changed his life. Thirteen years ago, Nathan Lee’s wife, Denise Amber Lee, and mother of their two children, was abducted from their home and raped and murdered despite frantic efforts to secure help through calling 911. Six months after her death, Nathan Lee established a foundation that works tirelessly to promote and support emergency communications through uniform training, standardized protocol, and quality assurance. “Denise’s story resonates,” he said. “Everyone in the communication center has a choice to accept the importance of the job they do. Every call they take could be the next Denise.”

Tell Your Story

Ricardo Martinez II
Creator/Host of Within the Trenches Podcast & Founder of the #IAM911 Movement

The former 911 dispatcher and supervisor took to a new sort of headset 13 years ago to ease the occupational stress he felt and watched among co-workers every day in emergency communications. There were few outlets, Martinez said, and he knew that bottling up emotions was a sure way for many to leave the profession prematurely (and with mega-baggage to boot). “I started playing with the idea of sharing stories,” he said. “I hoped to give people an outlet.” His podcast, Within the Trenches, has been a phenomenal success. As of July 2021, he was ready to broadcast episode number 393. “People want to share about how they are feeling,” he said. “I wanted to provide that outlet for them never thinking the podcast would grow to something like this.” Since his goal is to interview every person he meets, you can be sure to hear more of his podcast into the future at withinthetrenches.net.

Recognition Through Reclassification

Diann Pritchard
Communication Center Manager and El Paso-Teller 911 Authority board member, Cripple Creek Police, Colorado (USA)

Pritchard was elated over Cripple Creek City Council’s resolution recognizing emergency dispatchers as first responders. They went about the local resolution and took it before the city council to show the facts and figures about what they do and the increased benefits the first responder designation would provide. The bigger part—above and beyond the benefits—was the city council’s willingness to pass the resolution. “We are the first, first responders when we pick up the phone,” Pritchard said. “It means a lot to us for the city to recognize the importance of what we do through the resolution.” Pritchard welcomes the opportunity to help other agencies achieve similar goals.


Paul Stiegler, M.D.
OnStar Medical Director of Emergency Medical Dispatch

Technology is the future. Getting information and helping people is the bread and butter of what we do, and technology continues to make us better at what we do. Telemetry. Video. Texting. Receiving and dispatching information seamlessly. Crash data coming into the center digitally increases the awareness of possibly serious injuries that might not be evident from the call. We will always be that voice people want when they call 911. Technology will continue to be part of what we do.

Try to Make a Difference

Jennet Sullivan
Accreditation and Compliance Coordinator, City of Cedar Park, Texas (USA)

Emergency dispatchers are in a unique position. We are on the line, the first line of response, when the situation takes place. We have the power of the moment and the capability to make a difference from the start. We can literally change a person’s life in the way we handle the call. These are conversations we have at NAVIGATOR. We share information. We know what it’s like for others [in the profession] to be on the same side of a crisis. The community is important now and into the future.


Anthony Minge
Responsible for the Ambulance Service Manager and Communication Center Manager certification programs, Fitch and Associates

The future is more than technology. “As the industry evolves, so do the requirements for leadership,” Minge said. The constant, however, is keeping a focus on the human side and connecting with people. “Dispatch is the human part of 911,” Minge said. “Callers want to talk to you. They don’t want to push a button. They want to talk to you.” Artificial intelligence is an extra tool, a predictive value. It’s not in the best interests of the future to replace the human involvement.

Meet the Challenges

Adam Heinz
Executive Director, Integrated Healthcare, Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) Health, Reno, Nevada (USA)

How do we effect change? “We develop a culture that sustains the temperature we set in the room,” Heinz said. “Inoculate higher performance. Empower supervisors. Let it be known the worthwhile work emergency dispatchers do every day.” To meet the challenges, Heinz recommends engaging employees in decision-making and accreditation while providing the right tools and focusing on the successes of high performers rather than focusing on the remediation of poor performers. Surveys, he said, give insight into improving employee satisfaction. “If we don’t ask the questions, we don’t know how to fix things,” Heinz said. “Empower them.”

Saving More Lives

Julie Buckingham
Program Director, RQI; Telecommunicator at RQI Partners, LLC

Saving more lives from sudden cardiac arrest is a future Buckingham would like to embrace in emergency dispatch. “As first responders, we should know how to provide CPR when someone collapses,” she said. But knowing isn’t the same as doing. “There must be a mastery of CPR skills to save a life over the phone through high-quality CPR,” she said. Education and quality assurance are key, and the ability to better help people survive from cardiac arrest leads to performance improvement in general. “Confidence in your skills goes a long way in everything we do.”