Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal traveled to Washington, D.C., last week as one of eight individuals and organizations recognized for their contributions to providing a better 911 service and support for dispatchers.
Wes Wright, Next Generation 911 (NG911) executive director, said his organization hosts its honor awards program in Feb. each year in the nation's capital to coincide with the National Emergency Number Association's (NENA) '911 Goes to Washington' event. During that honor awards program, individuals and organizations from the private and public sectors of the 911 industry who "have done something extraordinary in the prior year" are recognized.
The awardees included: Tracy Eldridge with RapidSOS as Industry Professional; Kevin Garcia of Jeffcom 911 as 911 Public Safety Professional; Stephanie Sigler of Rice County Emergency Communications as 911 Public Safety Professional; Neal as Government Leader; Tyrell T. Morris, CPE of Orleans Parish Communication District for NG911 Awareness; VITA Integrated Services Program as Outstanding 911 Call Center/Program; Seth and Claire Johnson of Overland Park, Kansas, for Citizen in Action; Evelyn Bailey of NASNA for Carla Anderson Heart of 911.
Wright said, "Hundreds of millions of 911 callers every year rely on the dedication and cooperation of our public safety professionals, government leaders and industry partners. The Institute is honored to recognize just a few of the extraordinary individuals that have dedicated their lives to aiding those in need, putting the safety of others above all else. They are the reason our nation's 911 system is the gold standard for emergency response."
Neal said, "I am humbled to accept the NG911 Institute Board of Director's 2020 Government Leader of the Year award. The 911 profession has been, for too long, viewed as a subservient role in the public safety community, by both the public and fellow responders. Our 911 telecommunicators are the critical infrastructure that ensures all public safety response efforts happen when our community needs them. We will continue to elevate the profession, provide them the funding and resources they need as we progress into NG911."
Wright said the NG911 Institute was established as an educational resource for Congressional staff and elected officials to educate Congress on the limitations of the current 911 system and why it is important to allocate federal funds to support an upgraded system. Essentially, he explained, the system was built to support fixed landline telephones and to rely on a person's physical mailing address to identify where a 911 caller was located. As technology has improved, individuals can request emergency assistance from multiple sources: cell phones, smart watches, a car (OnStar), a smart smoke detector, a home alarm system. In many parts of the country, he added, it is difficult if not impossible for the current 911 system to support these different technologies. A "next generation" 911 system supports texting to 911, sending videos, providing the location of a wireless caller, etc.
In line with that goal, Wright said, Neal was selected for his award based on a few key factors including his support of the installation of the text-to-911 capability which became available in Marshall County last year; he said Neal's support of providing a better-equipped dispatching center (which is currently under construction in Draffenville) was also a factor.
Wright also mentioned it was his understanding Neal had "secur[ed] additional user fee revenue" to upgrade the Marshall County 911 system and increase the wages of the dispatchers. But that measure is still on hold with a lawsuit in federal court.
Despite having passed the ordinance to issue a $7 monthly fee on all electric boxes in the county to fund Marshall County 911's nearly $2 million annual budget, the county remains unable to collect the fee as the federal judge presiding over the lawsuit filed by West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WKRECC) and Jackson Purchase Energy Corporation (JPEC) against the fiscal court ordered no enforcement of the fee, pending further action by the court.
The agreed order entered by Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell with the U.S. District Court Western District of Kentucky in Paducah on Sept. 27.
The suit was filed on Sept. 4 by Edward T. Depp and R. Brooks Herrick of Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP of Louisville, representing both WKRECC and JPEC, taking a number of issues with the ordinance imposing the $7 monthly fee on electric bills to fund Marshall County 911. The attorneys contend the ordinance violates the United States Constitution and the Kentucky Constitution, is unenforceable due to being vague and uncertain and impermissibly infringes upon the regulator authority of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC).
NG911 Institute is a not-for-profit organization which supports the efforts of the Congressional NextGen 911 Caucus and run by an executive director and a volunteer board of 14 public and private sector industry professionals; nominations for the annual honor awards are solicited from the institute's members in Nov. and Dec. and applications are scored by an events committee, which is comprised of six board members.