Nowadays in the emergency telecommunications industry, change seems to be more of a logjam rather than a river — but still, progress is happening.
By Jeffrey Vilk, Guest Writer
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus has been credited with a saying that has become engrained in modern vernacular: “Change is the only constant in life.” No offense to Heraclitus, but my experience has been that, when speaking about the emergency telecommunications industry, there is possibly no other saying that is less true.
Ever since the birth of the 9-1-1 system, legislation in the industry has always been the slowest to follow. Case in point: In America, the first semblance of a 9-1-1 system began in 1968, decades later than the United Kingdom, which established its 999 system in 1936. Even after the system was officially established in the United States, it took an additional five years for the government to “suggest” its use. Even by 1987, only 50 percent of the country was using the 9-1-1 system.
Nowadays, in the emergency telecommunications industry, change seems to be more of a logjam rather than a river. Still, progress is happening. The biggest legislature change of the last few years is the 9-1-1 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (SAVES) Act. This act would reclassify 9-1-1 dispatchers as protective services occupations in the U.S. Government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) catalog. Currently, 9-1-1 dispatchers are categorized as office and administrative support occupations, the same as secretaries and administrative assistants. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, this was an accurate portrayal of what we did. Now, as we know, the work we do is much more complex and specialized, creating a need for official reclassification.
Though change seems to happen slowly for our profession, we are still closer to achieving this than we were even as recently as three years ago. Many states are taking it upon themselves to change the classification, including California, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, and parts of Colorado. Nationwide, as of July 2019, the bill has passed in the House and has moved on to the Senate, where it is currently stalled.
There is no question the 9-1-1 SAVES Act is a piece of major legislation that is fittingly getting the necessary attention it deserves. However, there are other, less publicized proposals that are important also, such as legislation to make dispatchers with post-traumatic stress disorder eligible for worker’s compensation; exempt dispatchers’ addresses and information from public record; allow dispatchers to retire after 25 years of qualified service, and more.
Decades of delayed change are finally coming to the telecommunications industry. Our government and politicians are taking notice. Generations of dispatchers before us have transformed a job into a career and a vital component of the 9-1-1 industry. Now it’s up to us to do our part and help take our profession to the next level. Together, we can take up the charge and lobby for these bills to become laws not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of all future emergency telecommunications workers.